By Lisa Rieck

The Death That Comes Before Resurrection

It’s supposed to be spring.

But at my home church in the Chicago suburbs, it’s decidedly winter.

Last Friday evening, Graham, a nineteen-year-old college freshman who’s a vital part of our body, suffered a heart attack due to a previously unknown heart defect. He passed away Tuesday evening.

And on Saturday night, the husband of a friend of mine from that church was killed in a car accident. They were married for less than a year.

My friend, her husband, and Graham should be experiencing life in all its fullness—discovering their passions, using their gifts, forming new friendships. What do we do when what should not be (death and excruciating pain) eclipses what should be? And what does resurrection mean right now, at the height of pain and grief?

I’m trying to figure that out. My prayers this week have mostly been groans. My worship on Sunday morning, after receiving the text about my friend’s husband, was a sheer act of obedience. I’m going through the motions of my life while my mind and heart are with these hurting families.

The Space Between Death and Resurrection

I imagine that’s how it was for the disciples in the days between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The reality that we don’t always think about is that for resurrection to occur, death has to happen first. It’s easy to overlook the weeping, despair, anger, disbelief, grief, and hopelessness that came before resurrection in Scripture, because the sadness is often covered in a few verses, and the stories end so joyfully. But Jesus’ disciples, as well as the widow of Zarephath, the widow of Nain, Jairus and his wife, and Mary and Martha, all experienced the darkness that death brings. They each mourned their loved one without knowing or ever imagining that the dead one would be brought back to life.

And yet, of course, it’s also true that some of the grieved in Scripture only had to wait a few hours—or, at most, a few days—before their sorrow turned to pure joy. In those cases, grief was short-lived, and both those who had died and those who were grieving experienced an immediate, dramatic shift: from fully dead to fully alive, from deeply grieving to full-blown joy.

It rarely happens that way for us. We do not often see loved ones brought back to life. And the internal transformation for those of us left behind from engulfing grief to something that resembles joy happens very, very slowly. Over days and months and years as we continue to ache for the one who’s gone, as unexpected reminders cause us to weep again, as we battle through guilt and anger and sadness and loneliness and fear. It happens so slowly that it’s hard for us to see. And even when we can recognize the healing that’s taken place in us, we’re not without scars. We’re never fully resurrected, and never “over” the death of someone we loved. We carry a piece of the grief with us to our own grave, until we see them face to face again.

The Questions Between Death and Resurrection

Truth be told, I’ve wanted to ask the Why? question many times this week, though I know trying to figure out the answer is an effort in futility. Why these two young men? I’ve looked for someone or something to direct my anger at. I’ve blamed Adam and Eve for their decision that brought death to earth. I’ve despised the snow outside for causing my friend’s husband to crash.

I haven’t quite blamed God. But I’ve held God at arm’s length with regard to my own pain, even while I’ve prayed over and over for the families—for God’s peace and strength, for a miracle for Graham. Perhaps that’s because the real question that keeps coming to mind is, Do I really believe God is fully trustworthy?

Almost before I finish the question each time I ask it, though, the answer becomes clear. Because the picture that comes to mind is not a picture of a God who is far off, unaware of these families’ pain. It’s not a picture of a God who occasionally dips his finger into the earth, stirs things up a bit, and unfeelingly (or maybe cruelly) watches the chips fall where they may.

Rather, it’s the picture of a God who goes to his friends when their brother has died and joins in their weeping. It’s the picture of a God who looks out over Jerusalem before his coming crucifixion and weeps for the death that will occur there. And it’s the picture of a God sweating drops of blood as he prays in agony in the garden of Gethsemane—a God who could have let hopelessness and the pain of death be permanent when Adam and Eve sinned, but who instead accepted the task of giving up his own life so that death will not have the final say.

That picture reminds me that death, while still a type of ending, is also a beginning. My friend’s husband and Graham are experiencing that beginning right now in full newness of life in the presence of Jesus. For my friend and her family and friends, and for Graham’s family and friends, resurrection is in motion too, though it will take many, many months to see and will probably happen imperceptibly for them. Nevertheless, the seeds are planted. And like spring, resurrection always comes. Eventually, a blade of grass, a bud, a green shoot pushes through the surface, and the work of the seed buried under the frozen earth of winter can be seen.

That’s the hope I’m holding out on this Good Friday as I grieve with others at my church. Jesus’ death that we contemplate today set in motion a resurrection that his followers could never have imagined—one not just for him but for all who come to him in faith and receive new life where there used to be only death.

And for these dark days between death and the point when resurrection can be seen—however long they last—Jesus weeps with us.

Lisa Rieck is a writer and copyeditor on InterVarsity’s communications team. She worked at InterVarsity Press for over nine years as a proofreader and Bible study editor (and, as it were, resident limerick-writer). She is continually inspired by the beauty of the sky and loves good conversation with family and friends over steaming-hot beverages.

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