My friend Mike Ovey died very suddenly on Saturday night. It's tragic. Death is always tragic. The world wants to tell you that death is natural. It doesn't feel natural. The Bible tells us that death is an enemy. That rings true with my experience. Death robs of relationship. Brings pain and misery. Smashes dreams and causes nightmares. Feels like an enemy to me.
We heard at about 11am on Saturday. We were just going to bed when the phone rang. Your heart always loses a beat when the phone goes that late. We knew Mike had been taken to hospital. I knew why we were being rung again so soon.
I didn't cry then. My wife did. The first waves of grief swept over her instantly.
Because that it what grief is like. It is not something you think. It is something you feel. You can't tell when it is coming. The waves of grief don't ebb and flow with the regularity that provides such fun at the seaside. You cannot paddle in grief. You cannot run away from it as it rushes in. Like a tsunami you don't know when it will come. And, like a tsunami, when it does it overwhelms you.
I used to love the feeling of fighting the waves when I was younger. Crashing through them as I smashed my way out to sea. Rooting my feet in the sand and refusing to be budged by the seeming wall of water that was approaching me. This is because I was in Wales not Hawaii! Anyone who lives in Hawaii will tell you there's no point in fighting a wave. Because the wave will always win. You have to let it wash over you.
The same is true of grief. You can't stop it. It surprises you. Jumps you. Sometimes at the most inconvenient moments. That's what happened to me.
Having made it to the next day sad, but in control, I sat down to ring a young woman in our church who knew Mike very well. When she picked up I just about got through my name, before suddenly grief rushed around me. "I have some very sad news to tell you..." was swallowed by the loss of control of my facial muscles and the convulsions of deep, uncontrollable, sorrow. When I am going to cry, really cry, I feel a little ache in my eyes first, then a rising heaviness in my cheeks, until finally grief bursts out.
Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow. It happened the night before his death.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)
He was speaking to His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. His sorrow isn't because of the physical pain that He will experience the next day. Excruciating though that was. His sorrow is because of the grief he will feel as His relationship with His Father in heaven in shattered. As he bears our sin he experiences for the first time what it is to be under God's wrath, rather than in the midst of His perfect love. He experiences the grief of lost love. The grief that is at the heart of the pain death brings. It was the most intense grief ever felt. As Isaiah 53 says:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4 KJV)
Mike knew that Jesus had died for him. He knew that Jesus had risen to give him life. So in the midst of our grief we know Mike is with Jesus now. Enjoying a life where grief is no more.