I remember the way he used to react when I walked into a room. All the time I was growing up, through all the awkward phases, the big hair, the oversized glasses, the braces, the fashion disasters. My uncle never failed to tell me how beautiful he thought I was.
He could tell a story in a way that would make you laugh until you were begging him to stop, tears mercilessly flowing while you tried in vain to catch your breath. He would stand around in the kitchen at my parents’ house, drawing a crowd around him as he turned a recent colonoscopy into the most hilarious experience that anyone has ever heard of. And after he entertained everyone he could just as easily sit down with me and ask me question after question about my life, helping me decide what I should be, encouraging me to use the gifts that God had given me.
Today I stood next to his casket, looking on this man who has blessed me in so many ways, his body ravaged by the brain tumor that finally ended his life on this earth. I looked on the body that I love and I cried for his suffering, for his pain and his spiritual growth and his fierce loyalty to me and to my dad and to all those he loved. I cried because his life intersected with mine in a way that only God could orchestrate, an uncle with his own children and grandchildren, who had the heart and the goodness to gift his niece with his love and attention and genuine care.
Death hurts. It always hurts. It reminds us that our existence here is just like one snap of the fingers. It’s as if you breathe in and then suddenly eighty years have passed and you breathe out and life here is done. If it weren’t for the hope of Christ, how could any of us bear the sorrow of death? His goodness is never more real to me than on a day of mourning, when I can look at a war-torn body that I love and know that the battle is over forever, and all of that pain was instantly erased by an encounter with the Savior of the world. All sorrows are forgotten. All of the human struggles are silenced. And there is complete healing.
On those days, we who are left behind can remember once again why we are so desperate for a God who can make everything right again. Death is coming to each of us. We may get eighty years, or we may not last this day. But, every time we stand at the front of the church, looking one last time on a dear body that we will miss so much, we should be overwhelmed by the goodness of Jesus. We should get on our knees and thank Him for the hope, for the confidence, for the faith. For the fact that we can trust Him with the ones we love and, someday, when the light is fading and we are slipping into eternity, we can trust Him to make us new again, too. He is so good. Death is no match for this living God.
Nine year old Sawyer cried and cried after the funeral. He felt it so deeply–the sorrow of death. The pain of saying goodbye. The strife that comes with being human. We walked to the car, me crushing him to my side while I spoke the truth of the gospel over his sandy brown head. This is why we need Jesus, I said. He nodded while the tears flowed. We need our Jesus to make everything right again. We climbed into our minivan and wiped our tears, and I prayed that he will remember this day forever, the day we saw so clearly how good a death-conquering God can really be. The day we stopped to mark the truth that death hurts, but sorrow and suffering are only temporary. The day we realized, once again, how complete our need is for a Savior who stands between us and destruction. In Him, we place our hope.
At the cemetery, all of the adults were standing around talking while Sawyer sat alone in the funeral tent, obviously burning up in the jacket and tie he had insisted on wearing on a hot fall day in Texas. I could still see traces of tears on his freckled cheeks. He was already thinking about going to Granny’s house and playing with his cousins. My uncle would have liked Sawyer’s jacket and tie. He would’ve commented on how tall he is getting. He would’ve asked if Sawyer is playing football. He would’ve been standing in the middle of a circle of family members, telling some story that would make everyone roar with laughter. And, he would’ve told me that I am beautiful.
I’ll miss him. But, I mourn with great hope. With trust in my Savior. And with confidence in His goodness. Death has no power here, where there is faith in Jesus. And so, I can smile through the tears and I can tell my baby boy with all certainty that we don’t have to mourn the way the world does. And I can picture my uncle, perfectly healed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, the angels drawing near to hear his stories.
I can almost hear the laughter, ringing throughout eternity.