I buried my dad today.
Today was a day I had thought about many times during my 12 years as a pastor. But I had never thought of it before then, and could not have imagined what a unique honor and privilege it is as a pastor to enter into a person’s most vulnerable time in their living: their dying. That role becomes harder when you realize that one day you will be in the chair next to the coffin of someone you love. Would I have hope when the time came?
Well, that day was today. It isn’t what I thought it would be. It was as if I had stepped into an icy puddle of water. The cold crept into my feet and continued up through my body until it took my breath. The puddle became a lake, working its way up until it poured out of my eyes. I kept wondering: where is my hope? Shouldn’t that take away the pain of this?
Breathless, we drove to the cemetery. Then it came—the moment of watching my sons and nephews carry my father’s coffin and place it on the straps that would lower the metal box, now locked shut, into the newly thawed earth. We followed the coffin, and then I sat in one of those chairs—the chairs next to the coffin.
It was a beautiful early spring-like morning. The air was still, and everyone was gathering close behind. No words had been spoken; the pastor was stepping into the place where I had found myself many times before—that place of wanting to say just the right thing or read just the right Scripture verse to ease the pain.
I, too, was hoping, wanting relief from that stranglehold of pain. Please, Pastor, give me something. Say something so I can breathe.
The gathering crowd had settled. There were no sniffles, no coughs—just stillness. Through the heaviness of the moment anticipating a word of comfort from the pastor, through the stillness of the chilled crisp air, there came a pure, quiet, innocent little voice that pierced the stillness: “Daddy, is that the hole to heaven?”
In that moment I remembered what Jesus had done. In that moment I could breathe again. In that moment the flood of emotions turned warm. I wish I could say the pain went away, but it didn’t. But like a warm blanket I felt the Holy Spirit say, “I’ve got this. There is hope.”
I have come to realize now that there is a need for pain—that hope does not mean the absence of pain. There is a need to see the hole. There is a purpose to sitting beside the grave. There will be a moment when at the same time nothing will make sense and yet it will all make sense. The joy of life, the struggle of sin and pain, and the assurance of hope come from knowledge of the work of Jesus on the cross, the display of power and authority over the grave, and knowing Jesus will return again to make all things new.