In recent years, my personal communion with God has become more meaningful for me and I have found more confidence in charting my own expression and navigation of my Christian faith. Before, I’d often harshly compare myself to others who have found a church congregation that calls them weekly. I have yet to find that for myself, but I’d usually go to church on Good Friday, feeling the magnitude of that day even more so than Christmas.
Today on Easter, as we mark the third day after Jesus’s death and celebrate His resurrection from death to life everlasting, I think back to the third day after Jasper died…
We woke up in our own bed for the first time since he was born to a deafening quiet, a jarring reminder of what the last few days had taken. We hesitated to start the day, delaying a few inevitables - we needed to start the process of telling people Jasper had died, we needed to start the preparations for his cremation, and we needed to decide on how to honor him.
More than this, we were uncertain about what truly came next and how to navigate it. We talked, cried, and tried to make sense of everything that happened and of Jasper’s death.
None of it made sense.
There were many self-proclaimed believers who told me that Jasper’s death was God’s will. I knew this to be a lie, and at a minimum, the rhetoric of fools. Lamentations 3:33 tells us clearly that “he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone”. More than this, “God is appalled by death” (Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff). Revelation 21:5 promises that “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. This is the promise of Easter!
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
For at least the first six months after Jasper died, my dear friend Lisa Foreman send me a bible verse every day. Many of them I wrote down in a notebook with an elephant embossed on the front cover, and they helped to connect and reveal the promise of Easter in a way I could not appreciate or comprehend before – God gave his son so that we could “have an eternal house in heaven” (2 Corinthians 5).
During my first Easter without Jasper, I found myself connecting with the season more so than I ever had before.
The Pietà (Italian for "pity" or "compassion") portrays the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus after his body was removed from the cross. I know what it is like to hold your son in death, and so I knew that “my pain over my son’s death is shared by His pain over his son’s death” (Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff).
I was compelled to believe in the resurrection and new life, for that is where we get to hold Jasper again. It is how we are reunited, and I hold on to this promise.
I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:27)
I still had questions though, and the whys and what ifs tormented me (and sometimes still do).
I did not believe that there was a reason for Jasper’s death (and none that would be consolatory), but I still wanted an answer to the unanswerable question of why. In When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner, I learned that God creates space for all of our feelings, including anger, like he did for Job. Further, expressing how we truly feel does not damaged our relationship with God. This was such a relief!
Kushner also showed me how to reframe my questions to ones that are less overwhelming and that can be answered: “the answer of why bad things happen to good people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.”
For me, this is so much deeper than creating meaning, purpose and a legacy for Jasper.
More time has passed without Jasper than the 225 days he lived in my body and in this world; and my relationship with Jasper continues and grows, with intension. In death, Jasper has revealed himself in the most wonderful and unexpected ways. It is in the knowing and learning of him, following his lead - always following - that I see all the ways love continues after someone dies.
Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent solidified for me what I knew wholly to be true – death is not the end: heaven is literally made of Jasper and a rainbow!
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. (Revelation 4:1-3)
And so we celebrate the third day with joyful praise.
But this is not the end - still we wait, for the last day.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. (1 Peter 1:3–5)
For me, that last day is at the end of my life when I get to hold Jasper again, in fulfillment of God’s promise on the third day.
But what do we do with our longing and missing in the meantime?
We live, love and grief… The bible is of and for grievers, and so is this season of Easter. God cries with us, like a good parent does, and he comforts us.
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word (Psalm 119:28) The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18) Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief (Psalm 31:9-10) Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4) I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. (Psalm 6:6) Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28) Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again (Job 7:7) I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you (John 14:18)
And yet, there is hope! “This hope will not lead to disappointment” (Romans 5:5). It amazes me how Easter stirs up so much hope in me, even with the great loss of my Jasper. There is space for both my grief and my hope in this season, for there is something more than death.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. (Lamentations 3:21-22) Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16,18) Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices… Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:20,22)
And so we celebrate the third day with joyful praise, and await the last day with great expectation!