When death separates us from our loved ones, we grieve. We terribly miss those family and friends in heaven, even though—as Christians—we know that Jesus is with our dear ones. We just don’t like being without them. Often, we wish we could undo what has been done. The harsh reality of our loss lingers throughout our lifetime and burdens us with sadness.
Eleven years ago, on this 11th day of July, Janet met Jesus. It’s a day that her brother Tom tells me he’ll never forget. I believe him. The sudden trauma didn’t only take Janet away from those of us who loved her, it also left wounds on our hearts.
As I was looking for a way to acknowledge this anniversary of Janet’s death, I realized that many people are suffering new losses at this same time that I'm remembering the ever-present pain of having lost Janet. Last week, our former Livonia Public Schools superintendent suffered the death of his daughter in an ATV accident. This past Sunday, a man in front of me on a flight spoke about how much he missed his wife, who died after being hit by a car as she was bicycling. And Monday night, I was stuck in a traffic jam as emergency responders worked to clear an accident in which two people were killed in a collision between a motorcycle and a car on a freeway in Denver.
I don't like sharing all this sad news, but I think it can be used to assure you that God is here and that we have hope because of Jesus. I found that message in a sermon that Janet delivered four times between 1985 and 2001. In “It’s Not Fair, God!” Janet mentioned her own heartaches, which included the deaths of a childhood friend and Janet’s own mother. Janet pointed out that God provides for us during our grief by bringing other people close to us.
Janet said, “We don’t need to play theological games to try to find some way to make life seem fair—just admit that life is not fair . . . [and know that] we’re not meant to carry burdens alone….God is made present in people’s lives through us—through the family of God.”
Her words remind me that we are part of a community that cares for one another. That’s why there are lengthy lines at funeral parlors where we wait to hug grieving parents. That’s why we patiently listen to strangers and tear up when we feel how much they’re hurting. That’s why we anxiously wake in the middle of the night after witnessing the loss of life that can’t really be hidden by white tarps.
Our pain is real and we show love through compassion. But as I look at Janet's quote below, I also see that hope in Christ carries us through the difficult days.
“We have a God who is faithful….When Jesus Christ faced the agony of the cross and knew the despair that would come from being forsaken by God, he prayed that the cup would pass from him. If anyone had a right to cry, ‘It’s not fair, God!’ certainly Jesus did. A righteous man, the Son of God, paid the price for the sins of the world. But why? Knowing that it was not fair, how could Jesus go through with it? I’m convinced it is because Jesus trusted God. He knew God would be faithful and would raise him from the dead. And God was faithful to Jesus…And God will be faithful to us.” -Rev. Dr. Janet A. Noble-Richardson