I didn’t know Matthew. Since the day I arrived at Forsythe, I have heard his name. We are praying for him, I was told. This young Christian man is a nephew of one of our members. And so we prayed. At times over the past sixteen months we were hopeful, receiving good news. The good news seemed to be rebuffed later by bad news. Today was his funeral in Searcy, Arkansas. The graveside service was in Bastrop, Louisiana. I didn’t know Matthew. But as I watched the family from the outskirts of the crowd, I knew.
For sixteen long months Matthew suffered from Leukemia and the treatments meant to heal him. I understand that he continued to have a wonderful attitude, even calling to comfort family members after his chemo treatments. His aunt, Jerelyn, was full of grace and truth when she proclaimed that “he won”. True. He did win. And we would not remove him from his exalted state with Jesus – even if we could. The funeral, flowers, and everything associated with this is not for him. It’s for us. And we need it. I wish I had met Matthew. I didn’t know him, but I knew.
I heard the same comments. I saw the same facial expressions. I watched the same agony. I sensed the same questions. I listened as the minister did his best to bring comfort to the comfortless. I could feel that same brokenness surrounding my heart as I wanted to badly to bring healing to this moment. I surveyed that lawn of death and separation, knowing that to the sin-cursed ground this was just a normal day. I glared at the coffin suspended above the prepared burial site. I didn’t know Matthew’s parents or his brother, but I knew.
My friend Brad said, “I hate death”. And so should we all. After the funeral I walked around for a while by myself. There was another grave of another 22 year old, this one a woman. Her grave was outlined by white rocks. Within were trinkets left by the grieving … angels … plaques with poems and observations … figures all covered with dust and weathered by the sun. Today we bought some flowers to go on John Robert’s grave. They will survive a while but ultimately, just like all of us, will fade. I didn’t know Matthew, or the hundreds of others buried at that cemetery, but I knew.
The sky was cloudy. There was a brisk … too brisk … wind blowing. It was cold. But it was nothing like the cold cold bitterness felt deep down in the heart of a parent standing at the edge of a grave. Once you’ve done that, there really isn’t anything else that seems so important any more. That kind of hurt takes over your heart. You can go on. You can choose to live. But deep down inside there’s that cold place that never seems to get warm. It is the sting of death. I only know One who can remove it. And He will.
Until then, there will be others. Most of them I’ll never know. Just like today. I didn’t know, but I knew.