19 Years Gone By
2012-07-06
Today I rode my bike 44 miles round trip to pay a visit to my brother Mark's grave in Wilmington, Delaware.  It was hot as hell and not the easiest ride with wind in my face.  But I finally made it.  I sort of just decided to take the trip and figured it might become something I do every July 6th as a tradition. 

It was just as hot today as it was in 1993 when we buried my 16 year old younger brother.  As I pulled into Gracelawn Memorial Park some of the memories came flooding back.  I remembered pulling into that same park 19 years ago in a limousine that MBNA Bank had rented for us (Mark and I were both employees annoying people with telemarketing calls).  Our family was stuffed into the limousine and we laughed on the way to the grave site.  I remember pulling up and the car fell silent.  The door opened, the heat came rushing in and it was like I was suffocating.  For some reason I remember the walk to the grave and coffin being so much longer than it actually is.  It seemed like our waiting friends and family were miles and miles away. 

Honestly, I don't think I had ever been to a burial before in my life.  Watching my dad struggle through the Psalms, the benediction and a chorus song was my first experience at a grave site.  It was horrible.  It was a tiny piece of hell.  I didn't cry much and I don't remember why.  I was just overwhelmed.  We didn't stay long.  It was fast - very fast. 

I have visited my brothers grave several times over the past 19 years.  Every single time I go I come away with the same feeling and thought - there is nothing for me there.  Today, those words were ringing in my ears as I walked the same walk we walked 19 years ago.  I placed my bike up against a tree and walked out to Mark's grave marker.  It looks the same as it has for 19 years only with a bit of aging but there is nothing for me there.  It made me think of the women who went to visit Jesus' grave on the first Easter morning.  What were they looking for?  What did they think they would find?  They were going because tradition and custom demanded that they go.  They expected to find a beaten and bloodied dead man.  They expected to find Mary's son, the itinerant preacher turned failed messiah wrapped in grave clothes. 

Instead, they were the first ones to hear the earth shattering, history changing, universe shaping news, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"  I think that is why we go to grave sites.  We go because we want to remember the living.  But why do we look for living among the dead?  But wait, isn't my brother dead?  Aren't I going to visit the dead among the dead?  Yes and no.  Already and not yet. 

Mark did die.  There is no mistaking this awful truth.  He was 16 and he should be 35.  He should have been playing music with me tonight.  He should have a little extra weight, a beautiful wife and children.  He should. But he isn't.  He died.  However, because he believed what he believed, because he knew Jesus was Savior, because he knew his sins were forgiven, because he gave his life to Jesus, when he took his last breath in that car, he met Jesus.  He is alive.  He is absent from the body but he is present with Christ.  He is with Jesus and like Jesus.  Why do I look for the living among the dead? 

I am not trying to cheapen the sting of death.  But I am trying to live by the promise that death's sting has been crushed.  Jesus has destroyed the grave.  Even so, death is still death, we live in a period of already and not yet and so that is why there have been 19 years of grief.  I miss my brother Mark.  More than that I hate how my mom and dad have to live wondering why and what if?  But they also taught me in the midst of their grief to live in the already and not yet. 

Time has gone by very quickly.  I don't hurt the way I used to.  I wonder why and what if but the bigger question now is "When?"  When will God make all of this right?  When will God wipe away the tears, crush the cancers, destroy evil once and for all and reign victorious over a new heaven and new earth?  For me it is not a question of "Will He?"  it is a question of "When Will He?"  That is why I can ride 44 miles to my brothers grave on a hot July afternoon and leave with confidence knowing that there is no reason to look for the living among the dead.  Jesus is coming back.  Bank on it.
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