One of my abiding memories of Nana is a particular look she would give. Now, looking back on it, the look makes me smile; but as her young grandchild it would jolt me and put me in my place. The look is easy enough to describe; when we would misbehave or be smart, Nana would tilt her head down and leer at us over the rim of her glasses, as if to say, “Really now?” There was love in this look, tough love, but the kind we needed when we needed it. Every once in a while I see this look now in my mom; genetics is scary.
Another characteristic of Nana would show itself when she enlisted the grandchildren’s help in yard work. Most people would be content with simply giving a general outline of the job and setting the youthful energy loose on the lawn; but not Nana. She would pull out her lawn chair and set herself down right where she had a view of the work being done, and she wasn’t bad at commenting on it either. Nana knew what she wanted done; but it was also a trait that she was never mean or harsh towards us. Mixing discipline and gentleness was her forte; and us grandchildren could always be sure that a rich reward awaited our labor (usually this took the form of a dessert; never mind, it always took the form of a dessert).
I miss Nana. I mourn that she spent the final years of her life in the grip of Alzheimer’s. I grieve that she is no longer with us. I am absolutely certain that she is now with Christ in joy, but I am also certain that we must grieve in the face of death, and mourn the loss of our dear mother, grandmother or friend.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
God comforts us in the midst of suffering and death in the world; what he does not do is shield us from it altogether. The Bible does not beat around the bush about the hard realities of life, and in fact encourages us to face them head on.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3)
How is the heart made to rejoice in the face of sadness?
British author J.R.R. Tolkien invented a word that sums up the Bible’s answer to this question. Tolkien said that just as we have the word catastrophe in English we should also have it's opposite, eucatastrophe. As catastrophe means a sudden change from good to bad, eucatastrophe signifies a sudden change from bad to good. For Tolkien this was the essence of the Gospel. He once said it this way, "The Incarnation is the eucatastrophe of human history, and the Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.”
In the Incarnation God, instead of leaving us to the consequences of our own sin, takes the deserved evil of suffering and death and deals with it decisively and finally in Jesus Christ. We still experience suffering and evil, but God now takes these bad things and fashions a eucatastrophe; he turns the bad into good. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he takes us through our own death to resurrection with him forever. This was the good news Nana believed in, and this is the hope she looked for. She knew that because Jesus lived, died, and rose again she too would rise again with him even though she would die. God wants to show us that he is the One who is sovereign over evil and death and raises the dead to new life. Nana’s life, and death, is ultimately about Jesus.
Just before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said to Martha:
“‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:25-27)
Even after this declaration of the eucatastrophe he is about to perform, we find Jesus grieving. The shortest verse in the Bible is: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) So let’s weep with Jesus; but let’s do it as those who know that Christ will raise his people from death and turn our weeping into laughing when he wipes away all tears from our eyes. So let’s weep, with hope.