The rifle shots rang out across Arlington National Cemetery, but is wasn’t until the bugle sounded the twenty-four notes of taps that I felt a strange combination of joy and sadness flood over me.
Joy came in the knowledge that my father, who we were honoring, was now one of the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) waiting for me to faithfully finish the race.
Sorrow came in the knowledge that I will not be able to see my father again until Jesus returns or takes me home, whichever comes first.
These mixed emotions surrounding death aren’t abnormal. Many people have felt this way when a loved one passes.
The main thing we all feel is a deep conviction that this is not the way things are supposed to be.
In his book Lost in the Middle, Paul Tripp writes,
It’s unnatural and we know it: People are not supposed to die. Like a knife rammed into the heart of creation, sin brought death into the world and all the aging, sickness, and decay that goes with it…. Aging, sickness, deterioration and death preach the Gospel because they point to the utter futility of living a life that ends that way.
There is another Paul who wrote some insightful things about death. And not just death – he wrote about resurrection, too.
As I walked through Arlington National Cemetery after the ceremony, I thought about the Apostle Paul’s description of our resurrection in 1st Corinthians 15:52, 54-55:
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed…then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
What Paul describes in the second half of 1st Corinthians 15 is our great hope.
My father, along with all those who have “fallen asleep in Christ,” will be raised on the day Christ opens the final chapter of what we call the four-chapter gospel, the chapter of Restoration.
In this last chapter of restoration, we will live with Christ in a new heaven and new earth which are not marred by the curse of sin.
Yet, while we are invigorated by the hope of what Christ has in store for us, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:58:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
The “work of the Lord” Paul is referring to is all the work we do in our families, our churches, our communities and our vocational jobs. This work done in the here and now, in the third chapter of redemption, is still important to God.
We must always be aware of the differences between the chapters of redemption and restoration in God’s story.
In the third chapter, redemption, we get a glimpse of the way things could be. But there will still be weeds in our garden.
Yes, our work is redeemed, but its total restoration awaits the final chapter just like everything else in this world.
In this current chapter we live and work in a cursed world that’s populated by fallen, sinful people. Even in our work we see and experience systemic problems: overwork, exploitation, ambition, greed, envy, and covetousness, to name a few.
Yet, we don’t give up. Just as in death we have hope of resurrection, in life we have hope that one day all will be set right. As Richard Doster writes:
We rub our hands in eager expectation, knowing these aren’t excuses to avoid the world; they’re the very reasons we plunge into it… We work with the confidence that He’s present in all we do — working through us to accomplish His will on earth, just as it is in Heaven.
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