“Dear Sisters in Christ,” the email began. The last time I received an email like this, it was to tell me of that a classmate’s husband was now living eternally with Our Father in heaven. I kept reading, “it is with great sadness that I share with you the news that the Lord Jesus has graciously gathered our sister’s little one, unto Himself.” I stopped and re-read my mind not fully comprehending what I had seen on the screen. As realization hit me, my heart lurched in my chest. Tears started falling from my eyes as I thought back to last summer when she shared the news of her pregnancy and anticipation of meeting her little one with us. Every question running through my mind encapsulated by the biggest one of all, “Why, Lord?”
Where do we find comfort when we experience news of this kind? When the tragedy touches our own families? What words of hope can sustain us and those we love and care for?
“I have said this to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“It is natural for our flesh and blood to be bold and cheerful as long as there is no suffering and grief. Thus, the proverb declares: ‘I do not fear ten men so long as I remain alone.’ But when our situation changes, when trials and temptations come along and oppress us, we immediately forget the beautiful promises. Then the comforting thoughts vanish, as though Christ had never given a promise or had left no comfort at all. This is why Christ has cautioned them against this so often and so diligently by saying: ‘I have said this to you lest you forget it. For I am giving you clear information in advance that you will surely experience anxiety and distress. You must be resigned to this, and you should be prepared for it, in order that you may not lose courage and your comfort. But be of good cheer and unafraid, for I tell you that the battle is already won. You need not be afraid that I am going to send you to where you must venture at random, without knowing whether you will lose or sin. This is not a matter of attacking first and risking a battle. No, the victory has already been won, and everything has been gained. But you must cling intrepidly and firmly to what I have told you.’
In this way Christ tells His disciples never to think about what may happen to them but to lift their thoughts far beyond all this. They are not to consider how angrily the old dragon and the lion – the devil and the world – open their jaws, show their teeth, and sharpen their claws. No, they are to lift their thoughts far beyond all this, in the knowledge that the battle has been won, that these fierce jaws, this showing of teeth, this tearing and killing, are much too late. These are to be their thoughts when they feel anxiety and distress, when they lie on their deathbeds, or when they are condemned to die by fire or sword, no matter how God summons them. In this way they can be victorious over the devil and death.
A Christian should emphasize and magnify these words – ‘I have said this to you’ and ‘I have overcome the world’ – more than heaven and earth. It is as though Christ wanted to say: ‘My dear friend, write the word “I” with a very large capital letter, in order that you may see it well and take it into your heart… think only of the statements I am making, and cling to them.” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapter 14-16, p. 415-17)
I think about my sister in Christ and imagine the level of grief and sadness she and her husband are experiencing. I recognize that a great and terrible pain will be with her in some measure for the rest of her life. On this side of eternity, it is not likely I will know the answers to the questions I asked the Lord when I read this news. But, I cling to the promise of God which tells me that, because of Jesus, this is not the end of this little one’s story. He has overcome and given us His victory and gathered her infant to Himself for eternity.
4 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-56)