Folded in Easter

A chilled breeze blows through the colorful cemetery. The dead are lulled by the shushing of trees and the chirping of birds. Spring brings life back except for our dead ones. Peaking through are the buds on the branches and the grass on the ground. They are packed in straight lines, our dead, coated by the germinating grass. The dirt shelters their decay. We don’t see it. We can’t smell it. We won’t hear it. Worms and insects nibble around them, oblivious at the sacred, lifeless empty bones we only dream of embracing anymore. They remain lifeless and entertained if only by the babble of roots, insects, and tilted ground.

The four years and seasons haven’t yet erased the plaque from her grave. I don’t go there often but her name among the dead is attached to my heart like a birthmark on skin. I know it’s there even when I don’t see it. My grief, now matured, comes in circles and makes its turns around my heart. Time hasn’t erased my grief, it only allowed it to settle better in life. I’m navigating the pillars of her remembrance with more dignity, strength, and nostalgia. I’ve learned that a well guided grief is one that rests in the gospel. I grew, in time, to teach my own grief, like an orphan the ways of a new household. I gave it freedoms and restraints. I let it weep and called it out on its selfishness. Mature grief needs tendering and love, too. But what it needs the most is gospel tethering and faithful care. To grieve well, I learned, I need Jesus.

For months before she died, we had asked God for a miracle. I had an expecting faith, hurting but steadfast. We believed until the last moment that with one word God could spare her young life for our sake. We asked for a miracle and God gave us His presence instead. He equipped us to pass through our family’s valley of death with His promises and presence. Jesus stayed through saying goodbye, lowering the casket, and living afterwards. Not one moment did God turn His face away from me. I wailed and wept, laid silent and numb, kicked and screamed. No amount of noise or silence frightened Him. His tenderhearted compassion held me. He never abandoned me to my own bitter brokenness. Even when depression and isolation set in, Jesus didn’t shame me. His promises, in fact, were even truer and clearer. He spoke more personally and intimately in my hard even as my grief matured and developed. Today, Jesus still holds me. I’m different and yet the same beloved daughter of God.

Carved in the layers of the story of Easter is the forever image of my dying sister. Her last celebration on earth was Easter of 2018. She chose to be at church because there was no other place her soul would rather be. She dragged her cancer filled body to the place where her Spirit called home—our church. I watched her worship with the frailty of a dying saint. I saw her weak lips moving with a moving faith. Her immobile body shook by the cadence of the voices, vibrating around the wheelchair, in victorious songs of worship. Every year at this time I find myself intimately drawn in the words of the story of Resurrection. I feel deeper when the chapters highlight a Savior in pain. I cry more passionately seeing life drawing to an end. I imagine more vividly a man enduring death crawling over him. But I also rise on peaks of hopeful assurance when I hear of my Messiah rising from the dead. I draw closer to the beautiful and merciful heart of Christ. The dead in Christ are awaiting the voice of the Savior calling them to rise up. Plaques will break, tombs will open, the ground will crack, and they will rise. The trumpeting voice of our Lord shall call His saints to live in their resurrected bodies.

It’s still painful to visit her grave. I miss and grieve her just as deeply today. I ask God for healing and wait for His answer. But the majesty of Easter changes everything. From the depths of the grave, to the glorious resurrection, may I allow the gospel to train my soul in the eternal promises of everlasting life. For in Christ, even the dead are living.

I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.

Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?

Hosea 13:14