When my brother Bobby died at the age of three, it changed the course of my life forever, starting with my family. I was only six years old, but boy, did it affect me. Our family was the classic Chr-easter Catholics with an occasional Sunday in the mix, but my parents never really saw the importance of faith when they were raising my siblings and I in the beginning. Then Bobby died. Life turned upside down.
Death Is the Inevitable Reality.
The things of the world became less important and more substantial questions began to arise from the depths. Questions like: Where is Bobby? What does our faith say about suffering and death? Why is our faith important? Will we ever see him again? Even though I was very young, those questions ended up being the foundation for my own journey with Jesus, and I often wonder what my life would look like if Bobby never died and hit me with the reality of my own finitude.
The crazy part about death is, even though we never really see it coming: it’s an inevitable reality. All of us face our death every day, taking one step closer to the end. There’s a famous Latin quote attributed to the philosopher Plato: “Momento Mori” which translates, “Remember your death”. Now, I’m not trying to be morbid or depressing, but it’s a thought worth having today: you and I are going to die. Whether we die tomorrow or fifty years from now, we will not be on this earth forever.
But, Death Is Not the End …
As sad and scary as death is, especially when it takes away the people we love, our faith teaches us that death is not the end. And thank God it’s not. Could you imagine ever wanting to be Christian if it was? What value would there be in following Jesus if we knew that it starts and ends with suffering and death? What a horrible thought! I wouldn’t want to live my whole life for Christ if death was all that ensued. But we know that living life like this is not the answer because death does not have the final word. We serve a God who is greater than death. The whole of Christianity depends on these five words being true: Jesus rose from the dead. Without this, Jesus’ words and miracles and teachings really don’t have a leg to stand on. St. Paul even says emphatically:
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:18).
What a bold statement, but absolutely true! If there is no resurrection, what are we doing with our lives? On the flip side, if Jesus did rise and we have no faith in him, then why have hope at all? This life would be pretty meaningless without hope. All we could say is that you, me, and everyone we love are destined to fade into oblivion. But this is not the truth. We know that our God rose. Jesus appeared before thousands of eye-witnesses and we know of his encounters with his followers. When the angel appeared to the women at the tomb, he said:
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6).
Can you imagine being there at that tomb expecting to find a rotting corpse, only to find an empty grave and an angel standing before the entrance? What a profound experience that must have been.
Could It Be?
Still, so many of us doubt, especially when we lose the ones we love. Yet, just like us, even Jesus’ best friends wouldn’t believe it when they first heard he was alive. We know of the apostle Thomas and his famous title “Doubting Thomas“. He would not allow himself to hope in what he heard from his friends. We hear from John’s Gospel:
“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe'” (John 20:25).
How many of us have said this in our grief, pain, and fear. We will not believe in Jesus and his promises and his goodness until we see exactly what he is doing, until we see a miracle, until he takes away our pain, until he proves himself. This is the way my family and I felt when Bobby died. We were too hurt to trust in hope. We didn’t want to be let down.
As much as this was the reality for a little while, by God’s grace we were given the gift of faith. We met a priest who led our whole family through some of the deepest questions and greatest struggles on the journey, and he led us straight into the arms of Jesus. This priest told us that there would be suffering, but we needed to trust and believe that Jesus conquered death. And this is true for all of us. We must trust in a God who sees beyond what we see and who offers hope to all who believe in him. The Lord says to you and me:
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27).
The Resurrection gives meaning to all our suffering, including death. With the hope of the Resurrection, our suffering can be redemptive because Christ’s wounds were redemptive.
Rise with Christ
Death does not have the final word. Jesus proves this when he rose triumphantly from what was seen as one of the most horrific deaths of history, the death of God himself. He entered into our pain, not to keep us there with him forever, but to raise us up with him to new life. Because he died, he knows our pain. Because he lives, we can rise with him. We read from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).
Death is but a door into eternity. And if we follow Jesus, we can claim the hope of heaven.
Hope of Heaven
This is what being a disciple of Jesus offers us: that even though we suffer, there is an eternity waiting for us free of suffering and death in complete fulfillment with the ones we love, but more importantly with the God who loves us. That is the faith that I believe in. This is the God we serve: A God who keeps his promises. A God who offers hope even when we are so unworthy. He bridged the gap between heaven and earth because he would rather die and rise than risk eternity without you and me.
Thomas was moved to trust when he saw Jesus in the flesh, but the Lord calls us blessed for believing even when we do not see. Jesus urges us to press into his promise when he says to Thomas and his disciples:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
He was talking about you and me! What a joy for those who believe even when they can’t see. We are free to hope because this hope is founded upon truth. Let’s choose to live in hope now to show the world around us the one who gives us hope.
Joy and Peace in Believing
If you are reading this and are in the midst of heavy suffering because the ones you love have been taken from you, I am so sorry. There will be a day with no more pain and no more sorrow. Cling to that hope. Press into the love of God. You can do this. Trust and believe in what Jesus said. This is my prayer for you today:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
I miss my brother daily, but I rejoice in the day that I will be able to be with him again in heaven with all the ones I love. I trust in the hope that Christ gives. Let’s lean into hope together today and always.
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About Taylor Tripodi
Taylor Tripodi is a twenty-four year-old cradle Catholic from Cleveland, Ohio aspiring for sainthood. Taylor graduated from Franciscan University, majoring in theology and catechetics and is now a full-time musician, traveling all over and spreading God’s unfailing love through word and song. In her spare time she enjoys making scented candles, seeking adventure, and being present to her large, crazy, Italian family. Want to hear her sing? Check out www.taylortripodi.com.