When I was young, my grandfather died. It was confusing and hard complicated by still being a child, not-quite an adolescent yet. This left fully aware of what was happening, but on the edge of every adult conversation, never pulled into the discussion.
What I remember though was my sisters and I keeping company in the basement of the funeral home in our pretty dresses, braiding each other’s hair and playing cards with our cousins. There was a lot of food. After the funeral we hung out in my aunt’s basement, played ping pong and ate summer sausage, chips with onion dip, throwing back orange soda pop and laughing our heads off as two of my cousins snapped rubber bands at one another and faked painful reactions. I think my grandpa wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
How often is life found in the middle of death?
How often in our grief do we find friendship and understanding. It isn’t uncommon for families spread wide to sit for a moment and recall memories of a life well lived or of a God who keeps working despite our obvious flaws?
Christ’s death is no different. There is sorrow, yes. There is darkness, yes. But God Himself brings Life into the midst of the death of His Beloved Son.
Read Matthew 27:50-54. While you read, look for the surprising references to Life in the middle of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ –
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
If you look closely, you’ll see more than one nod to Life in this account of heartbreaking death and sacrifice, but let’s focus on the most obvious today. Jesus dies. He literally gives His Spirit over to death. It’s notable, as we learned in yesterday’s study that death doesn’t rule Jesus. Jesus uses death for His plan. He subjects Himself to it for a purpose – eternal Life.
Look closer – in the middle of this rock-splitting, women weeping, head turning moment of darkness and death, God the Father inserts, by Matthew’s pen…resurrection.
Read Matthew 27:52-53 again:
The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
This account tells us that the resurrected saints (those who died in belief of the coming Messiah, of Jesus) came out of the tombs after Christ Himself was raised. Notice, though, that the record of these resurrections is given to the reader in the middle of the Good Friday account, not waiting for Easter sunlight to break into the story.
Lots of people were raised with Jesus. Not just one guy, not a couple – many bodies. We’ll hear their story in later weeks. For this week, let’s just sit in the middle and ponder how much God cares about it.
God gives hope wherever He is found. He knows life and death are intrinsically linked. He doesn’t ignore that in the ways we do. God brings celebrations to our funerals through Christ Jesus. He brings gifts of joy in the middle of our mourning. This turns the way we think of death and life on its ear. Jesus gives us insight into this when he speaks to a group known as the Sadducees earlier in Matthew 22:23-33 –
23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”
29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. (emphasis added)
Even in the middle of death, He is God of the Living.
This is nothing less than astonishing. Believers are raised and we are reminded of His Hope in the middle. He reveals things slowly to us over time, but he also never leaves out what we need in this moment.
What a gift that is!
Today, let Life infiltrate wherever you see and hear death. Praise God for Who He is and all He does. When you hear a news report, or consider your own memories of death and life, remember that He is God over all and He brings Life to the strangest places.