Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.
And the verb "see" here can literally be translated as "be a spectator to".
I was 7 when my grandfather died, 10 when my foster brother David died, 12 when my brother Michael died, 37 when Mom died, and 38 when dad died. Tucked in between were both grandmothers.
By the time I turned 40 I had seen more than my fair share of death. Or so I thought.
Sunday we read the companion to today's verse. When Jesus says, "everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." And then he asks Martha, "Do you believe this?"
The real answer for most of us is No, we don't, particular not when a loved one is ripped away from us. They look dead and it hurts like they are dead. We feel like our guts have been ripped out and we can't breathe. At that moment phrases like, "they are in a better place" are at best hollow, and at worst infuriating. All we want is to see them, to hold them, to talk to them.
I will freely admit that I was in my 40's before I got it. Before I understood either of these verse. Now I can look back on my life and say with absolute conviction that I have never seen death. Even as I held little baby David in my arms, what I saw felt and looked like death but it wasn't.
Even as I write this, I look at the pictures of my parents on the shelf in my TV room, and I know they are not dead. They are more alive than I am. They have zoe (eternal life) without the limitations of bios (earthly, biological life).
Here in Richmond there are two families I know who have recently experienced the ripping away of their teenage children. And there are so many more whom I don't know, whose stories will never make the news. I pray that God grant these families the gift of wisdom, that they truly understand what Jesus promised, and in understanding reconnect with their loved ones, and find the peace of God which is beyond all understanding.