“Jesus wept.” And I get it now.
I was driving home from church slowing down as I exited the highway. My phone rang. I listened silently. Said, “OK thanks for telling me.” Hung up.
Stared straight ahead. Wife asked, “Who was that? What’s wrong?”
Barely got the words out, “Pastor Tom . . . cancer.” Couldn’t hold back the deluge of tears.
We were on our way for lunch at my sister’s house. One of those lunches where more than just family was present. We arrived. I entered the house. It took all my energy to make it to the couch. Where I slouched comatose for a good forty-five minutes.
Ever since I was young I’ve been fearful of death. It was a major hurdle to my faith maturing as I became a husband and father. It also played some role in the regular episodes of depression I experienced growing up. Part of being a mature disciple is realizing we weep when death happens—it’s unnatural—but also death has lost its sting. Christ has killed death and we will rise again.
I was reminded from an early age that we all die. My maternal grandfather died only a few weeks after I was born. Heart attack. My maternal grandmother died almost two decades later. Diabetes, its complications, and old age. My aunt recently died from breast cancer. My paternal grandfather recently died of throat cancer. My maternal uncle recently died on the surgery table. Most of these family members have passed within the last decade.
I’m don’t handle death well. It makes me feel awkward—it’s like an unwanted guest at a dinner party. Selfishly I’ve avoided it for many years. I’ve avoided funerals. I’ve avoided those who were mourning. The last three years God taught me, “Jesus weeps.” And so should we. Weeping for the dead is natural because death is unnatural. It’s the thief of life. But it’s already been defeated and its seemingly greatest victory will be its greatest downfall—because as Paul says when we die we are planted as seeds and like any seed we will spring forth alive.
God taught me this by surrounding me with death. I said goodbye to a co-worker one Friday night, and Saturday she pulled up to a McDonald’s to order breakfast for friends and family who were helping her and her two year old son move into their first house. Sitting in the drive thru her heart stopped. A friend from high school’s mom died of cancer. Just this year my best friend’s step father passed away. And the wife of a friend (who contributes here) passed away.
There’s still a short circuit in my brain when it comes to death. It still doesn’t make sense. I still want to look away. But I’m learning how to mourn with those who are mourning. I’m learning to weep for those who are dead. To weep with those who have lost their loved ones. To weep for my lost loved ones.
My mom called me this week and told me that Pastor Tom had passed away. I didn’t know exactly how to process what had happened. When you’re young there’s certain people who seem invincible. When you’re really young, it’s your parents. You can’t imagine them dying. It’s not even can’t imagine. There’s no category for being without them. Pastor Tom was someone who seemed invincible. I had no category for him having cancer, for him dying. I have lots of good memories though and lots of love.
I guess in a way this is more about me processing this recent loss in some way. Thinking this through and encouraging others to not step away when you or others are hurting. Step into the suffering and weep—but don’t lose hope. Love does win. It always does.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the assistant editor at CBMW Men’s Channel. He regularly writes for a variety of publications. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting.