One year ago today (at the time of writing), our church and community were stunned by the sudden death of one our members. She left behind a husband and two young daughters.
Our church is fairly small, so she was known by everyone. She played an active role in the life of the church and was loved by many. When I received the news about her death, it was like someone had taken the wind out of me. I just couldn’t believe it. Tears streamed. My mind went immediately to her husband and children. I felt keenly the complete devastation that that brief phone call brought. I felt numb and had no idea what to do.
Responding to Tragedy
When something like this happens in our church, we’re faced with all kinds of questions: How should we respond? What is appropriate? Should we just leave people to work it out by themselves? Should we do something as a body? It’s hard to know what to do.
In British culture, the majority of people don’t like big displays of emotion—we like to keep our tears and sadness hidden from others. Death, in many ways, is still a taboo subject. People don’t like talking about it. We try to keep it hidden from children.
Whether these things are right or wrong is not for me to say. But still, death is a fact of life. We can’t escape it. It’s part of the world we live in. But as Christians, we know that this is not the way God intended things to be. Death entered the world as a result of sin (Rom. 5:12). It’s the height of the curse. The painful reminder that things are not as they should be.
However, in Jesus, we can have assurance that one day this will be reversed. On that day, we will be in a place where there is no longer any death, sin, pain, or suffering (Revelation 21:4). In light of death’s painful, tragic sting, we can say: What an amazing day that will be! As one writer helpfully put it:
“The real sense of loss that undergirds all the pain, disappointment, and grief in this life has been reversed through the gospel and will be enjoyed—fully and forever—in the age to come. Jesus will recover all of the fallout from Adam and Eve’s demise. The gospel is a hope that God will never leave us empty-handed. Never. Knowing this hope, I, along with all other believers, can wait, endure, and persevere. And not just wait, but wait with joyful expectation.”
In the meantime, though, how should we grieve and cope with this painful aspect of life?
Grieve In Hope, Together
As difficult as it was, the day after our sister’s death, the elders decided that we should gather as a church. We prayed together, sang together, cried together, and heard words of comfort from the Scriptures. Many people came, mostly believers, but also some unbelievers. It was probably one of the hardest services I have been to but, at the same time, it was so helpful for my soul to grieve with fellow believers. It was good for us to cry, give each other hugs, and seek to console each other.
There was a real sense of unity in our little congregation that night and in the weeks that followed. There was an obvious outworking of Romans 12:15—“rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” In all my years as a Christian, I have never been to a service like this.
It was right and proper that the Lord’s people gathered together after such a tragedy. What better place is there to go for those that are hurting, grieving, and in shock? We needed to be together, to offer comfort, a shoulder to cry on, and a knowing look. It gave a real, visible sense that no one had to suffer alone. As a church body we were all suffering together. Everyone was affected in different ways and to different degrees. But all were affected.
In the days and weeks that followed, there were lots of meet ups happening, either one-to-one or in little groups. Again, this was helpful for people to feel that they had someone they could talk to, someone they could pray with. As a church we did our best to get alongside her husband and children, both in practical ways but also just by being there with them. I know some of the men were proactive in getting alongside her husband—they wanted to show their love and concern for him as a brother.
In moments of life like this, it is so important for the church, Christ’s body, to come together so that we can remind each other of the hope that there is in the gospel. Even during the worst circumstances, we need to remember the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13—“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”
As a church, and as individuals, we still feel that sense of loss, we still miss seeing her face and hearing her laugh. But we know that one day, we will see her again. We will get to talk with her again. We will worship Jesus with her again. Praise God that we do not grieve as those who have no hope.