I am writing this several days before it will go live, knowing that on the day it does, I will be at a funeral. This is an odd and difficult thing to consider. Should I call it a celebration of life—for it will certainly be that! My Uncle George was a godly man who served God and his family, church, and community exceptionally. He lived a life worthy of celebrating. But as I look ahead to that day, I can’t use the word ‘celebration’ yet. He was too young. It feels too soon. And no matter how inevitable death is for us all, it doesn’t diminish the fact that the death of a loved one is unspeakably difficult and completely beyond the ability of those who remain to adequately prepare for. Death truly is the last enemy to be defeated.
So is it hard to write about the fruit of peace on a day when death breathes heavy around me? You may find this strange, but no. In fact, it’s the easiest and most comforting thing to write about. Why? Because I am sure that when someone who has walked in step with the Holy Spirit, not in perfection but in desire and direction, comes to the end of their journey here on earth, they will for the first time, fully and completely know the fruit of peace.
Death is the last enemy to be defeated. Yet, in the moment when a believer, whose eyes have closed in the sleep of death open to the reality of eternity, they will see for sure and for certain that death is defeated! For the first time they will understand what it means to have peace with God. I don’t think we can comprehend the magnitude of it yet, because we can’t comprehend the magnitude of God. We can’t grasp how utterly holy He is, so we can’t understand how utterly sinful we are in comparison—no matter what kind of life we’ve lived. We don’t realize how dire the consequences of our rebellion against God are because we don’t fully see who we’ve rebelled against.
Make no mistake about it, death is terrible and inescapable. As those who’ve rebelled against our Creator, we are in a very dire, in fact, fatal, position. Without Jesus, we truly are without hope in this world, but even more horribly, in the next. Paul doesn’t mince words in Ephesians chapter two: you were without hope and without God.
And then, what might just be my favourite word in the Bible: BUT. When the situation was most dire, God Himself intervened.
Death was defeated through death. The death of Jesus Christ in place of ours. We must pass through death physically, but spiritually, we only pass through its shadow, not its substance. Jesus Christ bore the substance of death so we’d only face the shadow.
Why so heavy, Arlene, on this particular fruit of the Spirit, you might wonder. Doesn’t the peace of the Spirit refer more to a lack of stress or worry or anxiety? Better management of our feelings towards that which is beyond our control?
Can I ask what your greatest fear is? What most quickly and easily brings you worry and anxiety? What most surely steals your peace? Can you trace it to a fear of death? Death of dreams, success, relationship, reputation, and yes, life itself? If those fears were real, wouldn’t you want to know so that you could do something about it if possible?
Our fear of death is real. Death is the enemy.
But it is defeated.
So yes, today I grieve alongside those I love. But in the pain there is peace. The loved one who has died in Christ has joined in the crowd around the throne. He is crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” (Revelation 7:10, 12)
He is fully and completely in the presence of the Shepherd who has sheltered, protected, and provided for him in this life, and will now do so for eternity. He has moved from still waters to springs of living water. Our tears still fall, but every tear of his has been wiped away by Jesus. The One who is our peace.
What is our only comfort in life and death?
That we are not our own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to our faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Heidelberg Catechism (1563)