“Papa Go Sleep, Papa Go See Jesus”
This is what my two-year-old nephew Gabriel said when my sister and brother-in-law brought him to the casket at my grandfather’s funeral. Shortly after saying one last goodbye to his dear “Papa,” Gabe, in a bolt of energy began to run around the room of the funeral home, almost with reckless abandon. From one side to the other, he ran freely, as every child is compelled to do. Occasionally, he would stop and grab some attention from the family and friends present before continuing on his merry two-year-old way. There was a life and joy within Gabe that day.
In contrast, I was at a wake for my grandfather. As I knelt before the casket, looking upon my “Papa” one last time and praying for him, I couldn’t help but think of Gabe and what he said. At only two years old, Gabe didn’t understand the concept of death. For an energetic two year old there is no such thing as death – there is only life. Even when it seems that things stop and change, it is just one more step in the timeline of life. For Gabe, even if he couldn’t fully grasp it, our Papa’s death was a new step, pointing toward a new way of life.
As family and friends spoke kind words of consolation, saying things like, “I’m sorry for your loss,” and, “He was a good man,” all I could think about was the end which Gabe alluded to: my Papa was going to see Jesus. With that, the beauty of it all dawned on me. We were in a place that most would recognize as sad and somber, and yet Gabe in his innocence of heart recognized the truth of it all and what we are made for.
So many people have a great fear of death because the only life they know is the one that they have created for themselves. Death disrupts this life. They have decided what their life is going to be like, what they are going to pursue, how they are going to prioritize, and it is for no one else to determine its ends and means. They think they are in control, but when death’s dark hand comes knocking, they frighten and realize how little control they actually had. The life they have created will be snatched from them in an instant, and some would rather take their own life, rather than see all that they have created be taken away. Death comes and conquers their lives. There is no triumph here, only capitulation. So they are scared, and rightfully so.
Yet, I was amazed at the sign Gabe was for everyone in that funeral home. As the body of my grandfather laid quietly in its casket Gabe ran with life. Gabe’s running was an image of true Christian death, where life is changed, not ended. Eternal rest is not so much a deep and peaceful sleep, but a fullness of life in every aspect: it is life with Jesus. Life is what we are made for. We find death unnatural and repugnant because in our very core, in our very being, we know it is foreign to us. And to its face, unlike so many, Gabe said “no.” In so few words, Gabe really said to us, “See! Go see the Lord and run with Him! Go see the Lord and you will have life!” Death has no gain, death has no victory, death has no triumph. The only triumph of death is the life of our Savior because in His death life is given to us, here and hereafter, forever and always.
So Papa went to sleep, but Papa went to see Jesus. May God grant us grace and love so that we can one day go see Jesus too.