The topography of grief is vast and varied. Your grief may bear a resemblance to the grief of others, but it is only a resemblance. Each grief is uniquely its owners. It is intense and personal, never what you think it will be. It takes turns you did not expect. When it seems gone, it reemerges without warning. Sights, sounds, and smells open its locked doors. And like Frodo Baggins’ ancient wound, grief is inflamed by days of remembrance. As Gandalf sagely observed, “Alas [Frodo]! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured.”
We reach for the phone. Or we enter a room with the forgetfulness that he is “not here.” We see a beautiful vista or recall a shared moment and ache to share it. But she is “not here.” The one who has always been there is “not here.” Death is surreal. We think we know how we will respond, but it is nothing like the caricatured response of our stories.
I remember well the wee hours of March 8, 1984. The phone rang. It was the hospital. Without explanation, we were told to come. We drove in silence. What was happening? At 18, I was not sure what was happening. I had seen her just the day before. She had had a good day. She was alert and we talked. She told me how much she loved me and how proud she was of me. She seemed so much — better. Why had they called so early to come?
We entered silently into her silent room. Everything was silent. Nurses were gathered, but no one spoke. Gone were the IVs, the oxygen. There was no humming of medical machinery. There was a radiant peace on her face. She looked so peaceful. Gone were the grimaces of pain. Gone was the struggle to breathe. I knew, but I did not know, what was happening. My mind raced. Was she better? Had something remarkable happened? Yet, she was “not here.” The hole that had just opened in the fabric of my life seemed so vast as if it would swallow me. She was gone. She was not here.
Our reaction to grief is never what we anticipate. Imagine for a moment those women who went to the tomb so early on the First Day of the Week. They had stayed at the foot of the cross until the bitterest of bitter ends. Their beloved teacher, master and friend, their Lord, was “not here.” In one last act of love and devotion, they go in the wee hours, in the darkness before dawn to the tomb to care for the body of the one who had cared for them.
Their minds turned to questions. How would they roll away the stone? As they drew near, they were met with an unexpected scene. Imagine how their minds raced. Luke says they were “perplexed.” The stone was not just rolled away, but cast aside. The tomb was empty. He was gone – not just in the way of grief – but really gone! Who would do such a thing? Who would intrude on their grief like this? Holy Messengers appear with a shocking explanation and mild rebuke.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
He is not here? What does this mean? How can this be? His death had changed everything in their lives, but now He is “not here.” From our vantage point, we may be surprised at the conflicted responses of the women and the disciples to the resurrection of Jesus. The women flee from the tomb with fear and joy. The disciples receive the reports of the women with skepticism, then meet to the risen Christ, himself, with worship but doubt. As one commenter wryly noted, “the apostles were not men poised on the brink of belief… they were utterly skeptical.” How could they have been so blind? We might be tempted to say, “how foolish [they were] and slow to believe.”
But what about you? What is your response to the Resurrection? For the men and women who encountered and empty tomb and a Risen Christ, the Resurrection changed everything. Has it changed everything for you? Has it given hope in grief? Joy in sorrow? Faith in fear? Have you met the Risen Christ, the Living One, who has defeated the last enemy, Death, and holds the keys to death and the grave?
Is your life defined by the “not here” of death, or the “not here” of the Resurrection? For believers the question is not, ‘is there evidence for you to believe the Resurrection,’ but ‘is there evidence of your belief in the Resurrection?’ This testimony is the only evidence for the Resurrection most will consider. Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 12, as we examine Luke 24 and consider our responses to the Resurrection of Jesus.