“Christians have the most reason to grieve – and the most reason to hope. We have a Savior who knows our sorrows, a God who hears our sorrows, a God who hears our cries, and a promise that one day all tears will be wiped away.” Paul Tripp.
We have heard today of the death of a dear friend, Ruth Gillespie (nee Milne). Ruth (or Ruthie as she was known then) came to live with our family in Belfast, as the first MK (missionary kid) whom my parents welcomed into our home. She was to be the first of many – eventually her brother, Arnie, joined us and then many more.
Ruthie had been brought up in Venezuela where her parents were missionaries and she was full of life and vitality. She loved to laugh – although she was known for not always getting jokes right away! She entered fully into whatever was going on around her and could be counted on to help out with whatever we were doing at El-Nathan. Being the age of my (older) sister, Liz, she was like a second big sister to me as I grew up through my teenage years.
Ruthie met Alan Gillespie, they married and eventually lived in Switzerland for several years – which was where our paths crossed again. Indeed, Alan virtually interviewed myself and my husband, Alan, on the telephone before we went out to Switzerland for the first time. By then he and Ruthie were living back in England but he had been asked to look out for someone who might be able to pastor a new church which had formed out of the church he and Ruthie had been members of in Geneva – the Evangelical Baptist Church of Geneva. When he realised that we were interested, he interviewed us by telephone and then we went to Switzerland for the formal interviews, stopping for a night or two with Alan or Ruthie on the way and receiving much support from them as we started out on that particular adventure. Indeed, I recall travelling home alone on one occasion with our two girls – Ruthie met us in the airport in London and helped me get all my luggage and the two girls on our flight to Belfast.
After a battle with cancer, Ruth has been called home. Those few words are easy to say but hard to believe. Death has a way of catching us off guard – we are surprised all over again that, after all, life is not forever. We are not immortal. The here and now is not permanent. And we are reminded of the brokenness of our world – the sickness, the pain, the sorrow, the separation that cannot be mended. Grief hurts, almost like a physical pain.It is not how it was meant to be. God had something better in mind. And all will one day be restored to what He intended.
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” C S Lewis.
But for now we live in the ‘not yet’. We look forward to what is to come – but we grapple with our mortality and we wrestle with the brokenness of the world around us.
Ruthie with her two brothers, Ashley and Arnie
I find what Paul Tripp says really helpful:“In normal life your celebrations don’t usually intersect with your sad times and your sad times aren’t typically your times of celebration. When you are sad, you don’t really feel like celebrating anything much. The opposite is also true – when you are celebrating, you don’t want your good spirits dampened by reasons to be sad. We try our best to keep our sadness and our celebration separate. It just makes life less complicated.But Jesus has called us to be a sadly celebratory community or a celebratory sad community. Now why is this true? It is true because Jesus calls you to a life of uncompromising honesty and a life of unchallenged hope. If you are going to be honest, really honest, then you are going to be sad. Why, because you cannot be honest without recognizing the horrible legacy of damage that sin has left on each one of us and on the surrounding world. Sin damages us, it damages our relationships, and it damages our environment. There is nothing you will ever examine or experience, this side of eternity, that has not been damaged in some way by sin. The destruction is so widespread it almost leaves you breathless. When you are really honest about how broken the world actually is, you cannot help but be profoundly sad.Yet, we are not just called to be people of honesty, we are called to be people of hope as well. When you begin to consider how magnificent God’s love really is, when you begin to understand how powerful his grace is, and when you begin to realize that God is right now exercising both his love and his grace so that this world would be fully and completely restored, you can’t help but celebrate. This God who is the ultimate definition of love and wisdom, will not leave us and the surrounding world alone until we and it are fully and completely restored to what we were meant to be in the beginning.So we should be the saddest and most celebrant community on earth. And we should be sad and celebratory at the very same time. We are sad because we know how bad things actually are and we celebrate because we know that the help that Jesus offers us reaches to the deepest level of our need.Are you sad at the condition of your world and does your sadness dance with your celebration because you also know how great God’s life-transforming grace actually is? When you take those honest looks at your world, have you remembered that God will not quit or rest until he has made all things new?May both celebration and sadness dance in your heart to the rhythm of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!”