I was twenty-nine years old when my father died of multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow. He was fifty-three. Only hours before his death, I spoke with him. Our eyes met during that final visit, the same eye contact we had shared from my birth, though his eyes were growing gray. I held his hand as he drew his last breath, and then, he was gone. His body lay lifeless and unresponsive.
The morticians took his body from the hospital room where our family had waited through the night. We visited the funeral home and chose a casket. Shortly afterward other family and friends joined us to view his body lying still and quiet, dressed in his familiar suit, his hair combed. I stood by the casket and stared at his face. It was obvious another hand had combed his hair and another hand had tied his tie. He seemed to be sleeping.
I imagined him drawing breath. Imagined him opening his eyes so that they sparkled once again, his lips parting in the familiar grin, the dimples reappearing in his cheeks. But he didn’t move. We buried his body in the cemetery 41 years ago surrounded by friends who came to comfort us, many of whom are now buried nearby.
I asked myself the question Job asked centuries ago, the question every man and woman must ultimately ask when they stand where I stood on that day, “If a man die, shall he live again?”(Job 14:14).
Job’s struggle with the question was not about theology or philosophy. His struggle was like mine. It was personal. It is the struggle we all must face sooner or later when those whom we love die.
After having pondered the question, Job foresaw the Easter event we celebrate this weekend. He wrote, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
The world will ponder Job’s question this weekend when we gather in Christian churches around the world. When Jesus was raised from the dead, the answer to life’s most important question became clear. Luke wrote, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3). Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).