I can still remember the day I learned about death. I was riding with my grandfather. We were on our way back to his house after running errands, when we passed by a cemetery. Because this cemetery was only a block away from my grandparent’s church and five minutes away from their home, I’d passed it a million times without a second thought. This time as we drove past, my grandfather asked me if I knew what the place was. I remember looking out of the window at the rows of flower bedecked, stone monuments and answered without hesitation, “The cemetery”.
I was six or seven years old at the time and could easily spout off a fact without understanding anything deeper. The gated cemetery was just another landmark like the gas station or the Burger King on the next street. My grandfather knew this which is why he persisted with his questions. “Do you know what a cemetery is?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s where dead people are buried.” I responded matter-of-factly. I still didn’t know where this particular conversation was going since we were alive. I was more interested in getting back to my grandparent’s house so I could do what living people do—eat ice cream. I was totally unprepared for the truth bomb my grandfather was about to drop on me with his thoughtful smile.
“You know, one day your Grandma and I are going to be there.”
I paused for a moment as fear and panic washed over me. I took another look at my grandparents’ future resting place with new interest.
“I thought people only die if they are sick or killed in war. Otherwise people live forever.” I countered. Surely I had the right way of things in my six year old wisdom. I can still visualize my grandfather’s mildly amused expression as he enlightened me that not only would he pass away, but so would everyone at some point.
Before I became too upset at such a terrifying reality, I informed my grandfather that I didn’t want him to die and that I didn’t want to talk about death anymore. My reasoning was that maybe if I never spoke of it or thought about it, it would never happen. My grandfather obliged, entering into a new topic of conversation as easily as he’d slid into the previous one.
I chuckle at my naiveté back then. I was blessed to have my grandparents well into adulthood. They were when I got married, and even though we moved around a lot those first ten years, their house was the first one we’d visit upon coming back home. My grandfather was blessed to meet all of his great-grandchildren, even the youngest. Of course there were tears when they passed away, but there was also a thought that has comforted me.
Both of us were right. Yes, we humans do die, but the cemetery is not our final resting place. Though death is inevitable, we live forever. Death touches us all, but for the Christian, death brings Jesus and eternity into view. For us, Jesus is the hope upon which our entire existence hinges. Our lives have value and purpose because of him, but likewise our death from this life holds the promise eternal life. The day we die is the day all of our hopes are realized. It’s the day we come face to face with Jesus. If we have believed in Jesus as our Savior, it’s a glorious day, but if we have rejected the cornerstone, it is a terrible day that no amount of pleading or tears will allay.
Hebrews 9:27, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.”
John 5:24, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
2 Corinthians 5:8, “Yes, we are truly confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.”
Most people shy away from talking about death. It’s uncomfortable to face our own mortality and that of our loved ones. In light of the Gospel, however, Christians need to have an uncomfortable conversation.
Death helps us to truly see the Gospel as the pearl of great price, worth giving up everything to obtain. Yet so many are living this life, with no thought for the next life.
Eternity is a long time to get it wrong.