At the Church of the Resurrection each year in December, we hold a special worship service for everyone who lost a loved one that year. We recognize that Christmas itself can intensify the feelings of loss and grief. At that service we remember that Christmas is inextricably linked to Easter. The child whose birth we celebrate would one day conquer death. Among the greatest gifts God has given us at Christmas is the hope that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). The infant Jesus would grow up to say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Mary witnessed the terrible and tragic death of her son. Then she had the joy of seeing Christ resurrected from the dead. But then, forty days later, she witnessed him leaving once more in the Ascension. If Mary died around age sixty, as one tradition suggests, it meant that she lived roughly fifteen years after Jesus’ death on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension to heaven.
I have been with many parents who have lost children. They have told me that the pain changes over time but the sense of loss is carried with them the rest of their lives. They survive. Over time they discover joy again. But there is always that sense of loss that parents feel for their children.
One woman whose son died in a tragic accident told me that she feels a connection to Mary, who also experienced the death of her son:
When you lose a child, you lose part of yourself as a woman. He was inside you. He was your flesh and blood. I just feel her pain, watching what he went through. It is absolutely catastrophic devastation at first. You eventually come to peace with it. You know he’s in a better place. You know you’re going to see him again. You view heaven in totally different ways than other people do. You deal with grief in different ways. Mine was in coming closer to the Lord.
The appearance of Jesus to Mary after his death would have changed everything for her. She still would have carried the grief of his suffering with her. She would have carried the sense of separation and loss that any of us would feel after the death of someone so close to us. But the Resurrection, we can be sure, changed how Mary experienced her grief; it gave her hope.
Paul calls us to encourage one another with the hope that this life is not all there is. Encourage one another with the fact that you’ll see your loved ones again. Encourage one another with the prospect that the world will not always be as it is now. This is part of the promise and hope of Christmas—that the One who was born in Bethlehem will set all things right one day.
Paul devotes the entire fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians to this view of the Resurrection. He concludes with these powerful words: “When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
This is the hope we find in Christmas. Our first Christmas after the death of a loved one may be particularly hard. But such grief may be borne when we remember that the Christ whose birth we celebrate conquered the grave and gives us hope we will see our loved ones again.
Today’s post is an excerpt from Not a Silent Night.