I miss Roson more than I thought I would. (My cousin died on March 31, 2008 from pancreatic cancer.) In these past three months I have been ambushed often by memories of the good times we shared. I think of the trip Bernice and I made to Toronto the year before last. So many memories, so much magic — like our trip to Niagara Falls. There was no warning of the pain that was to come. I think of our trip last year, when the battle against the disease was in earnest. Again so many memories — our visit to the Badlands, your intense desire to see your church renewed knowing your time may be short… And always the excellent conversations about all sorts of things… God, I miss you…
I find it so hard to imagine visiting Toronto now, with you not there. We will probably go sometime — we have so many friends there. And we want so much to visit family (if I am feeling the grief so acutely, how much more will they be missing you?). But it will be a different Toronto because you are no longer there.
As I grieve for Roson, some thoughts come to mind. First, that as I move into middle age and beyond, I must be prepared to say good bye to people that I love more frequently. More and more, death will be a regular visitor to my circle of family and friends from here on in. (Of course a time will come when I have to make that journey too.) I find that I am paying closer attention to the obituaries in my daily paper. But how does one prepare for regular grief?
At least the bible accepts that grief will be a part of life this side of heaven. Another thought that comes to mind as I grieve for Roson is Paul’s word to the Thessalonian Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4: 13. There Pauls tells us: “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 who have no hope (TNIV).”
I have preached on this passage so many times at so many wakes and funerals. Now I need to let the words speak to me again. (Roson is but the latest of a number of dear ones I have lost.) I note, again, that Paul does not forbid us from grieving. He does not say ” do not grieve.” He only says that we shouldn’t grieve without hope. I have given permission for people to grieve countless times. Now I have to claim that same allowance once more. There will be a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more grief (Revelation 21:1-4), hence the hope we have — but we are not there yet. In the meantime, we, together with all creation, grieve and groan till that day of complete redemption.
We know that the whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23 TNIV).
So yes we look forward to that day when Christ returns to usher in the new heaven and the new earth. We note that this renewal is not only cosmic. It is also personal. Paul assures the Thessalonian Christians that “… Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14 TNIV). We mustn’t let our debates on the exact schema of the second coming of Christ distract us from what is clear. We will meet Jesus again. And we will once again meet our friends who have died in Christ. I will see Roson again and we will pick up our conversations where we left off.
I think of the many years when we were apart, you living in Toronto, and me here in Malaysia/Singapore. I missed you but I knew where you were. And I knew that we would meet up again. And we did. Perhaps our situation is not too different now. You are no longer living in Toronto. Your new address is “with the Lord.” Ok, there doesn’t seem to be a way to call or email you at your new place. But I know where you are. And I know we will meet again. And we will.
I remember you grinning, waving, when you came for me at Pearson International Airport. I see you grinning, waving, when we next meet up. In the meantime there is work to be done. The next time I am ambushed by grief, I will remember the many who need comfort. I will remember the many more who need to know that there is a living hope beyond death.