Twenty-three years ago, my sister Becky lost her son in an accident as he walked home from school. Is there any greater sadness for any parent than the early death of a child? I think not. This is what Easter holds for us, in the words of my sister.
When my ten-year-old son, Robert, was struck by a truck and killed, I saw and experienced, for the first time in my life, the power and horror of death.
Robby was my only son—I have three wonderful daughters—and was the light of our household. He played basketball, soccer, and football. He had a paper route and a bank account and was saving his money for a car. I had made it clear to him that this paper route was his job. I was not going to be one of those parents who drove him on his route every time it sprinkled.
On Sunday morning, the day before he died, he asked me if I wanted to ride my bike along with him and help him deliver his papers. My throat felt sore, and I was experiencing the distinct pangs of PMS; but for reasons I still don’t know, I pulled myself out of bed at 6:20 am and joined him on his paper route.
Outside a fine layer of snow covered the ground, and only with great difficulty did I resist offering to drive him on the route. We bundled up in hats, mittens, and winter coats and I looked to Robby for instructions. A role reversal he relished.
We rode our bikes down dark alleys, through grassy back yards, and on detours to avoid barking dogs, all familiar territory to Robby. We worked as a team, with Robby shouting directions and me, following his lead.
When all was done and as we approached the house, Robert grinned at me: “Mom, it’s a lot more fun when you do it with me.”
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
The next day I dropped him off at school. We said “Good-bye, love you.” They were the last words we ever spoke to each other.
When I drove home from an appointment that day, as I entered my village of Dexter, MI., I saw a traffic jam. A police car and other officers directed traffic onto an alternative route. As I passed near the accident, I saw the legs of a child, surrounded by people, in the middle of the street, and I felt sorry for whoever it was.
Until I recognized the jeans and the shoes.
To see my lovely living breathing child suddenly turned into an empty lifeless shell seemed to me to be an unspeakable perversion. It left a huge gaping hole in my heart and life. I saw death as a monstrosity; repulsive; a thief who had the power to rob me of life and joy.
When my son Robby was killed eleven years ago, it felt as though Death had stolen everything, not only from me, but my girls; and not only from my girls, but also from Robby: his future, his growth to maturity, and all the possibilities of who he could become.
The Bible teaches us that when we die, we immediately go into the presence of Christ. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus said to the thief on the cross. St. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Death can only be gain if we are alive in the presence of God.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Rev. 14:13
Because of what Jesus achieved by dying for our sins and being raised from the dead, death can ultimately no longer rob us of anything. My son Robby is right now in the presence of God. The biblical attitude towards death can be summed up in one great statement: It is a blessing. Jesus Christ transformed the meaning of death for the Christian:
- Death is no longer our executioner but has become our gardener.
- All death can do is to plant us; it plants me as a seed, and I come up a gorgeous flower. Since death has been defeated, death can do nothing but make me better!
- For the Christian, “What is sown as perishable is raised imperishable, what is sown in dishonor is raised in glory. What is sown in weakness is raised in power.”
Robby hasn’t lost his future. He has simply started the beginning of the real story one step ahead of me—and every chapter will be better than the one before.
So come on death! Hurt me and you just grow me! Kill me and you just make me!
There is nothing so bad that can possibly take away our real wealth, or our real health, or our real hope, or our real joy.