On Thursday, it was our fourth wedding anniversary, a day to look back at the day our journey of married life began. I flicked through photographs, remembering the joy; the funny stories (as I left the hotel for the church my shoe got stuck in a grate and I had to be rescued by a rather bewildered maintenance man!) and the overwhelming sense on the day that all was right with the world.
On Thursday, it was also the day I attended the funeral of my Grandfather-in-Law (is that a thing? I’m not sure, but let’s go with it). It was a sad, hope-filled day to remember a man who you couldn’t speak about without speaking about his faith, the two so intertwined.
It was a reminder to me how closely grief and love sit together.
One cannot be had without the other; we only grieve when we lose things or people we once loved. Perhaps that is part of what it means when it talks about death being beaten? That not only will there one day be no more death or crying or tears, but that here and now loss is not felt without love.
On a calendar in my Grandfather-in-law’s house, there was a verse given for each day, and on Thursday the day of his funeral the verse was this:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
His life and death proclaimed this; and 1 Corinthians 15 was read at his funeral service along with the words which have featured in countless hymns:
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
I’ve been wondering recently what that means in the here and now. Because I lost my own beloved Grandpa a couple of weeks ago and I don’t feel like there was victory, I don’t feel like death has lost its’ sting when he was so cruelly eaten away by dementia.
Death was not part of God’s original perfect creation. It is the consequence of our fallen world, and so it doesn’t always feel like it is beaten, that we are victorious.
And over the past few days I’ve been wondering if, this side of heaven, the victory we have in Christ over death is found in the love that is shown as we grieve.
Because I believe that we can and should grieve our losses. Even with the knowledge Jesus had, he still wept at the death of Lazarus – it was a sign of His love for his friend. It says in 1 Thessalonians that we should not grieve without hope, it doesn’t prohibit grieving, rather that our grief can be marked with hope.
Beth Slevecoe writes in her beautiful book “Broken Hallelujahs”:
“Grieving always involves love. We can’t grieve until we are able to recognise our love for what is lost.”
Death is not the end, it has been defeated and one day it will be banished.
But in this now-and-not-yet land, when death does still sting; it is still swallowed up in the victory Christ established over the grave. His victory is our hope and the love of God that drove Him to the cross is the balm that comforts death’s sting.
In this fallen world waiting for a new heaven and new earth, we can’t experience love without grief to go with it – because human love has an end in death – but God’s great love is eternal.
God’s love and light were not extinguished on the cross because God’s love and light are the very things that lifted the man Jesus from his grave.
This is the balm for death’s sting, and the victory that swallows death.