The Sting of Death is Absence.
There are four large oak trees growing on the property of the Jacksonville Church of Christ that were planted some seventy-five years ago by my father. The trees are a reminder to me that there was a day when a very young version of my Dad went with my Uncle Clifford Smith to bargain for some land on which to build a new meeting house for the Jacksonville church. One day, just a few months later, Dad went to get some oak saplings from his brother to plant on the newly-purchased land. The trunks of the oaks are places where children play hide and seek today and the branches provide ample shade around the building and the accompanying fellowship hall. They are a reminder that the plants have outlived the planter.
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it’s no wonder that children remember all the good times so readily when a parent leaves them behind, because suddenly life is saturated with the absence of that beloved mentor. That’s just one more aspect of death’s sting. This week I’ve been wading through lots of pots and pans, piles of old photos, heavy pieces of furniture, books, bedding, blue Mason jars and other various piles and containers from house, barn and workshop. Of course, the obvious truth that the work and collection outlives the worker and collector shouts from every box, basket, pile, and parcel.
The words my sister said earlier in the week, as we were struggling (we all want to defer to the other) to divide up the old quilts, knives, pocket watches, rings, Bibles , etc…keep resounding: “We all know we can’t have what we really want, so this is really hard.”
Absence is hard. Ezra, who is three, looked at the big laundry basket of toys that I brought home from Dad’s. “But,” he objected. “Doze are Piedaddy’s toys and we need to take dem back to his house, because he needs dem.”
Absence is hard. But the best truth is…absence in our little sphere, of course, means presence in God’s big and eternal one. That reality reminds me of three important and reassuring things, today.
- Reminders of a good life are plentiful and, though they signal absence, they keep on providing good things for those who are still on the journey. A mother’s marked Bible, a good climbing tree, an iron swing set that’s so strong that only the trumpet’s blow will signal it’s end…all of these keep telling us about a good provider who still, in may ways, does.
- What we “want” is not always really what we want, at all. God is infinitely good and completely cares for his people. Ezra will learn soon enough that Piedaddy does not need anything!
- The giver of these left-behind treasures—the humble sharecropper’s son—knew the Giver. He knew the real sense in which all of us are sharecroppers. We are all just “farming Someone else’s land” as we sojourn here.