This Is What Jesus Overcame

In the second year of my undergrad studies my roommate came in one day and said a peer in her class had unexpectedly died after a short illness. He was our same age, just 21 years old. He was a part of a campus ministry that neither of us were apart of at the time, but they were to host a gathering for all the students he touched to come and process and grieve. My roommate wanted to go, and I agreed to join her in support. It’s a strange experience to go to a memorial of someone you did not know, and a horrible experience to go for someone so young. Sitting in that hall, we were surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people our own age, filled with an intensity of emotions that only a large gathering of young people seem to be able to bring. But the emotion in that space was not limited to sadness. Stories began to emerge painting a picture of who this young man was. Of the passion with which he loved Jesus. Stories of how encouraged people were to know him. The extravagance that he lived his life with for Jesus. The many many lives he touched because of the God who directed his path. And in response, we sang. We worshiped the Lord because it was the only response that felt right in that room. We worshiped in response to the deep questions, and yet sure steadfastness of the Lord in this space. It was rich and beautiful and even in the depth of tragedy that was present in that room, I didn’t want it to end.

In the midst of the gathering someone came up to the front and after a long silence punctuated by sniffling and sobs, he simply said “This is what Jesus overcame.” This room filled with pain and questions, this collective experience of hurt and sorrow that comes from death – it has been overcome by Jesus. And in that moment something changed in me. I was familiar with verses stating Jesus overcame death by his work on the cross, and I had understood those passages to indicate how we would one day raise to life with Him after earthly death. I had not applied Jesus’ sacrifice to my emotional experience of death. Because of Jesus’s work on the cross, we can experience death differently. Death without despair. Death that reminds us of the hope we have. Mourning death could, dare I say, breed joy. That room held so much sorrow, it could have held tumbled into deep despair. The type of despair that pulls people from the Lord and breeds doubts and questioning of his goodness. Despair that gives way to only destruction. However, because of Jesus overcame death, we can live in that complex space of true sorrow and true hope. The tension of the already and the not yet. His work on the cross not only secures believers new life after death, it shapes the way we emotionally experience death on this earth.

I have never, since that day, been a part of a more complex emotional climate with that many people. It seemed as though polar opposites of human emotional experience were being had simultaneously. The chasm of sorrow, anger, pain and questioning was perfectly balanced with explosive joy, hope and steadfastness in who God promises He is. Death brings sadness and sorrow, Jesus engaged in this emotional experience during his ministry on earth (John 11:33-36). But because Jesus overcame death, there is no room for crippling despair as we process the death of those who believe in Him. Jesus invites us into that complex space to allow for the full spectrum of human emotion and to trust in His work on the cross overcomes even the darkest of moments.

This summer my family and I have experienced these complex emotions with the passing of my grandpa. He was 94 years old and had been experiencing the deterioration of his body for the past several years. This man, who for his whole life, led his family on biking, sailing, and traveling adventures was spending his last years mostly in the same two rooms, shuffling between chair and bed each day. Those words spoke at that gathering almost a decade ago kept resurfacing as I watched my grandpas body change, “This is what Jesus overcame.” The deterioration and failing of this body we are given is an expected part of the human experience, but Jesus ensured death does not shadow the hope we have in him.

As I began to think about the natural break down of our bodies in the end of our lives, Jesus started to work in my heart to view it in a new way. I was tempted to feel only sorrow about my grandpas aging earthly body, and impatience for him to have a renewed body. I wanted him to be spared this waiting time where it seemed he was only giving up things and gaining none. The Lord helped me see what a grace it is that at the end of our lives we are brought to our knees in dependence on Jesus. In the moments that we are closest to seeing His face and hearing Him call our name into a new and glorious existence with him, we are most clearly faced with our dependence on Him. We are never self sufficient even in the physical health of our youth, but our failing bodies give us a clear reminder of this in the end. What a grace that we experience the limitations of our earthly bodies, so that we can engage in faithful anticipation and trust in the one who can redeem them.

Our culture devalues aging, and disability. I have a friend who jokes she doesn’t want to live past 85 because it “just doesn’t look fun”. But what if we saw the changing and deterioration of our bodies as a reminder to posture ourselves before the one who created us, and trust his redemption of this body was won when Jesus gave his body on the cross. For the past several years I watched my grandpa handle each day with grace and stewardship of what time and abilities he was given. He engaged his mind to others and continued to make his family members feel seen, heard, and valued. He ran his race well with the daily bread afforded to him by the Lord.

When I think about my life and the unknown amount of time we are all given, I am faced with the humbling truth that I am not my own. I was bought with a price, the body of Jesus hung on a cross. Because of His sacrifice, the physical deterioration and death of our bodies was overcome. When I witness this decline happen to loved ones who know Jesus, the experience of despair is replaced with hope. It is a grace that we are humbled before the Lord as we age and our bodies begin to fail us. We are stripped of our dependence on self and we are afforded a glimpse of how dependent we are on our creator. My I grow in my ability to see how fully dependent I am on Jesus for every bodily and spiritual need. May I rest in the truth that Jesus has indeed overcome death and I am free to walk in hope towards the arms of my creator.

- Amelia Jones

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