As those who live in this tragic beauty called life, as those who live at the intersection of sorrow and joy, we approach death with a strange mix of emotions.
As those who follow Jesus, we remember that short verse that I memorized as a kid: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
It’s one of the most profound verses in the Bible, which is why those two words stand by themselves. Jesus wept. He joined us in our sorrow. He knows grief from the inside-out, not just from above.
This was no feigned sorrow by the one who knew himself to be “the resurrection and the life,” who just minutes later raised his dead friend back to life. No, this is the real thing by one who was deeply bruised by the death of a loved one.
This grieving by Jesus gives us permission to grieve ourselves. There is nothing faithless about our tears. In fact, they are the most fitting response to the rip in our hearts. Our dear dead deserve our tears.
But Jesus is in fact “the resurrection and the life” and the firstborn from among the dead. He is the first harvest of the grave, proving the future harvest to come.
This is why St. Paul wrote these words to grieving followers of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, The Message):
And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.
And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.