The following is the latest in a series of daily meditations amid the pandemic. For today’s musical pairing, “Song for Athene” by Sir John Tavener. All songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. … The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:20–22, 26
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
1 Corinthians 15:51–54
Meditation 24. 3,094,829 confirmed cases, 215,461 deaths globally.
In the days preceding my grandfather’s death, he was wholly unresponsive. A heart attack and a belated resuscitation had left his brain without oxygen for an extended time. Though we were told he was no longer really there, we brought him home and the family kept watch by his bedside. The silence was leavened with hymns and prayers.
Death, for my grandfather, did not come like a violent plunge. It was more like his soul was water on the shore and it slowly receded into the sand. The beating of his heart, the pulsing of his blood, the rise and fall of his chest all grew gentler until they were almost imperceptible.
Then, in the last possible moment, his eyes opened. His arms rose off the bed and extended toward the ceiling, toward the skies, toward the heavens. Stunned, the family whispered encouragement. “It’s okay to go,” they said. His arms fell. And he was gone.
Mortality is much on our minds these days. Here in the United States, we have surpassed a million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. It began on the far side of the planet and has left a ruin of death and devastation wherever it has gone. More Americans have died from the disease than from the entire Vietnam War.
Grandfathers and grandmothers. Brothers and sisters. Parents and children and grandchildren. Friends and colleagues. Countless Americans are grieving their loss, and countless more are grieving overseas. How many will lose people they love before the virus is defeated?
When we lose a loved one, our souls strain against the veil. We come to the end of ourselves and our powers to see. We may wonder whether we will ever really see them again. How confident are we, really, that we will find one another again on the far side of the veil?
We do not, if we are honest with ourselves, really know what happens to the souls of the dead. Not, at least, in the same sense we know the names of our children or the number of rooms in our home. But that does not mean we cannot be confident. Trust can be stronger than knowledge when it is rooted in the being of God.
The Scriptures, the Old Testament and the New, are clear that God stands against death. God “will swallow up death forever” (Isa. 25:8). “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave,” God declares, “I will redeem them from death” (Hosea 13:14). Men and women are resurrected in both testaments. Jesus grieved death—and overcame it. The victory of God is the defeat of death.
We trust that we will be united with God when we depart this earthly life because we believe in his promises. This is the purpose of our being, and the promise of our redemption. And when we are united with God, we trust we will be restored into fellowship with our loved ones who are also united with him.
We trust these things not because we see through the veil but because we see the character of God. We have seen and have proved that he is true to his promises. Our confidence that we will see our loved ones again is not rooted in such a paltry thing as human knowledge. It’s rooted in what is changeless and unshakable: the character and the goodness of God.
I am more confident in the love of God than I am in my own existence. I am convinced that the love of God fills and moves and draws all things unto itself.
We mourn, O Lord, those who have lost their lives. It is good and right to mourn them. But we do not mourn as a people without hope. We trust, O Lord, that the souls of our loved ones will know their way into your embrace as a bird knows its nest in the branches. We trust, O Lord, that when we climb the ladder of the stars, we will find you there. Thank you for your love that binds all things together, even broken and lonely things, in order to bring them back to one another and make them whole together.
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