Yesterday, my husband and I had the privilege of attending a funeral service for a saint. The woman’s whose body laid in the casket at the front of the intimate sanctuary, deserved all the honors and accolades that were spoken.
The preacher, her son, likened her life to that of Tabitha’s in Acts 9. Despite having just shared this New Testament truth with my preschoolers at work this week, I learned a great deal. Brother Cal’s message clearly showed how his mom, Mrs. Hampton, was a real life application, a modern version of this disciple from the early church.
I cried at the funeral service, but they weren’t tears of sadness. My tears were happy tears, celebrating the life of saint who was a disciple, who did things for Christ, who left an amazing legacy and pointed everyone she could to Jesus. As we worshipped and rejoiced in the gospel, I prayed that one day similar things could be said of me, that I could be so easily likened to Tabitha and that I could follow Mrs. Hampton’s example, no matter what my future may hold.
In the hours that have followed me home from the church, I find myself continuing to reflect, but not on Mrs. Hampton’s life or how much her family is already missing her.
What I am struggling with is something I wrestle with every time a believer in Christ passes from this earthly world. I don’t understand why we begin referring to them in the past tense. As believers who remain, we are to cling to the hope we have in Christ. This hope is that they are not dead, merely gone, that we will see them again, and that they are very much alive in heaven. Yet, when we talk about them, it is not that they are alive and well in another place, but instead we speak like they are gone never to be seen again…
Yes, there are things we miss about them, that we know they would have enjoyed. There are things that they would have done, things that they did do – but who they were, they still “are.” We will grieve our loss, what we wanted and the empty spaces they leave behind. But we need to balance that with the truth that we will see them again.
For example, my brother-in-law loved pie. It didn’t matter what kind, but he had a special affinity for Shoney’s, fresh, Strawberry Pie. To this day, and most likely all our lives, my husband and I will think of him every time we eat pie – however, I believe with my whole heart that James still loves pie and that he immensely enjoys it still – in heaven with Jesus and without the worry of calories.
The fact that James is gone hasn’t changed the facts that he still loves his wife and loves his daughter. His love for them is not over, nor is theirs for him. Theologically, I am not sure he watches over them, but I don’t doubt for a second that God sends graces to let them know that James is fine and they’ve not been forgotten.
I am comforted when I miss my grandmother by remembering how her face looked when she laughed and by knowing that her eyes still squint so she can’t see as she laughs in heaven.
I want to refer to my mother-in-law in the present tense when I see a piece of jewelry I know she would like. I want to say, “Betsy would like those earrings,” instead of “Betsy would have liked that necklace.” And she does like some pretty flashy jewelry.
Mrs. Hampton is still an amazing lady and striking example for me to immolate. She may be in heaven, but those facts are still true. All that has changes is that her residency is now there, not in a home around the corner.
I am not living in denial when I think this way. I know these loved ones are gone, but I know that they live on and not merely in my memories or in their legacies. I want the words I speak about them to reflect the truths I know to be true – they are all very much alive and better than well. They are finally home and one day I am certain I will be there too.
God, let my word choices when I speak about the saints who have gone before clearly reflect my faith. May my faith be the assurance of things that I have yet to see, and the knowledge that my loved ones’ faith has truly, fully become sight. Be with Ms. Hampton’s family as they adjust to life here without her physical presence. And may anyone reading this post who has questions about the eternal life you offer, seek out the truth they need to understand why we can refer to the “dead” in the present tense. Your saints don’t fully die.
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