When You Lose Someone You Love
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Dr. Jim Denison
This has been one of the most challenging, and meaningful, weeks of my life.
Challenging, because Janet has been in Cuba as part of our most recent mission team to go there. They had a powerful week with more clear evidence of God’s hand on that country and our ministry there. In her absence, the boys and I ate food from every establishment in Dallas with a drive-through window. She left plenty of food for us to cook, but that would by definition have required cooking. I had to run the dishwasher twice all week, a tiny picture of my prowess in the kitchen.
This was a truly memorable week as well. Vacation Bible School was a delightful and exciting experience once again. Dozens of children came to personal faith in Christ; even more families became prospects for Christ and our church; hundreds of workers sacrificed their week to give this beautiful gift to the children of our community.
In the midst of it all, my sermon title and theme was changed by two deeply moving events. On Sunday we held a memorial service for Emily Marie Ates, a precious child who stepped into her eternal home after five weeks of earthly life; the burial was held Tuesday in Louisiana. On Wednesday our church family celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. George Edwards, a longtime church member, deacon, Sunday school teacher, Senior Adult ministry leader, and remarkable friend. From five weeks to 84 years of age—two ends of the same spectrum.
As I walked with these families through their loss and grief, I realized that any series dealing with key relationships should help us with the loss of those relationships. We all need to know what to do and what to believe when we lose someone we love. Let’s ask God together.
Where are they now? (51-52)
We come to such a place with three questions above all others. First, where is the one we love, now? Is death the end? Are they in that coffin, buried in that grave? Is this the end?
When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body he placed on her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, lie light; good night, dear heart. Good night. Good night.” He was sure that she was there, that this was all there is. Was he right?
Our text begins with a secret only Christians can share:
“Listen,” Paul says. This is a Greek imperative, a command. Why listen? Because “I tell you a mystery.” “Mystery” means something no human can know except by direct revelation from God. Paul says, “I’m about to tell you one of God’s secrets.” So we bend our shoulders together, turn our ear to his lips, and listen with rapt attention.
Here it is: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” “We” shows that this mystery, this promise, is for believers, and only for us. We will not all “sleep,” Paul’s common word for Christian death. But we will all be “changed.”
How long does it take? “In a flash”—the Greek word means a unit of time so small it cannot be divided. No reincarnation, or purgatory, or evolution here—instantly, in the quickest possible moment of time.
We are “raised imperishable,” he promises. From death to life, from grief to glory, from earth to heaven, from grave to God.
So we know that the one we loved who loved Jesus is with him right now.
Jesus promised us, “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). He promised the thief dying at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
So Paul could say, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). He was sure: “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
If the one who died is a child, that person has all his or her life been close to God. That child never sinned, never broke his or her relationship with God, and is with God now. Jesus was very clear on this: “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19.14).
The one you love never died, but is in paradise, with Christ, at home. And God’s word promises that for them, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (Revelation 21:4-5).
And know that for them, it will be only a moment before they see all of us who know Christ as our Lord. God and his heavenly dwelling stand beyond time. He transcends it, and so do those who live with him in heaven. Revelation 10:6, speaking of heaven, says in the original Greek language, “time shall no longer be.” For us it may be years, but for them only a moment until they see us again with our Father in heaven.
So know that the one you love is loved by God, this very moment. Imagine what it must be like for them, dwelling eternally in the glories of God’s perfect heaven. I often share at memorial services these words:
Think of steeping on shore and finding it heaven,Of taking hold of a hand and finding it God’sOf breathing new air and finding it celestial,Of feeling invigorated and finding it immortality;Of passing through a tempest to a new and unknown ground,Of waking up well and happy and finding it home.
This is where they are, this moment, with God.
Why did this happen? (53-57)
So we rejoice in the good news that the one we loved who died in faith is with God. But now we suffer together with the hard news that they died at all. And if we are honest we must ask the hard question: why did this happen? Does God not care? Is he not powerful? Why does he permit such tragedy as this?