My grandmother died during Easter week 17 years ago. Mimi was a tiny but ornery old gal. I have fond childhood memories of spinning in a bar chair in her galley kitchen, sipping coke and eating ham after a swim in her apartment pool. As she aged, dementia robbed what little sweetness she offered and she started chasing her cat with her cane and accusing me of stealing her car. When she moved into a nursing home I visited her as often as I could, being one of only three loved ones she had remaining. One day, during Easter week I arrived at her home and the nurse told me to sit down. “Your grandmother passed away this morning. The morgue just came and picked up her body. I’m sorry.”
As I pulled out of the driveway of the home, my vision blurred and a sob escaped my throat. I asked the Lord out loud, “Is she in hell? Oh God, did she ever believe? Where is she? I so hope she trusted You. But I don’t think she did.” What a punch to the gut.
At the time, I had been married about a month, Mark was in Seminary and we were en route to the mission field. That Easter season was especially joyous--new husband, new life, new calling, new adventure as we were wrapping our lives around Jesus’ command to go and love others in His name. Mimi’s death and the cold, sickening reality of hell quenched my happy heart. I did wonder why the Lord would end her life in the midst of our new life celebrations.
Likewise, this past Easter week a friend of mine from elementary school died, a high school friend’s mom died, and my grandmother-in-law has been gone for one year today. Death at Easter feels so violating, so misplaced.
When I stood to speak at Mimi’s funeral I had little to say. We all in attendance--maybe 10 people--struggled with attaching words and meaning to her departure. Though family, we held vastly different beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife. Lacking eloquence and life experience at the age of 20, I uttered, “I don’t know why God caused Mimi to die in the midst of Easter. But I do know that Jesus lived and died and rose again so that we might have life and have it to the full.” I quoted John 10:10 and clung to it that day and have ever since.
I’ve almost doubled in age since Mimi passed, but I am still far from understanding the mind of God, far from conceiving the wrath and justice of hell and the elation and triumph of heaven. This I do know: Jesus gives us who trust in Him full life, so the death of our loved ones--whether they are in heaven or in hell--must contribute to that bottom line in some way.
Paul says in Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? ... For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:32, 38-39).
Now, seated next to the Father in Heaven Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). We who put our hope in God alone will enter a new heaven and a new earth and these burdens and sorrows and heartbreaks will be made new. Jesus will “wipe every tear from our eye and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21: 4).
Easter reminds us that Jesus conquered death and He’s coming back. Easter is not in contradiction to the pain and the sorrow we feel. Jesus‘ resurrection is not in juxtaposition to the death in our midst.
Precisely BECAUSE of Easter, our sorrow will be redeemed--because He rose again, this is not the end of the story.