Yesterday I had the privilege of tasting grief at its best at a memorial service for Daniel Robert Hall, who died two-and-a-half weeks ago in Zambia at the age of 38. It was an exquisitely painful yet glorious time of worship and remembrance. For Rob’s family and close friends, yesterday’s memorial service was the third such event in two weeks, following a funeral in Zambia and another in Cambridge, yet they displayed remarkable grace, humility and honesty as they laid bare their hearts, shared their memories of Rob, spoke about the hope of eternal life and the fulfillment of all things, cried, laughed, and worshipped.
Grief is not something any of us seeks, yet it comes to all of us. Grief is unavoidable in a world marked by the curse of death. Yet those who belong to Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, know that death is not the final word. And so we can grieve with hope. The emotions of loss are just as powerful, but in the end we know there is a more powerful reality still – the reality of resurrection.
That is where our hope lies. Not in anything we can do, but in what only God can do. That is why we can sing songs in the face of death. I didn’t really know Rob well, but yesterday’s service was filled with abundant testimonies of the life of faith that he lived. He was a man of action – a man of faith and adventure – a man of amazing energy and loyalty – a man who did much good – a man who loved many. He was a man with the faith of Abraham – a faith that motivated him to go out, not knowing where he was going, because he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. That is why Rob was restless. He had a vision that could not be satisfied in this life.
When I told my friends from work about Rob’s death, they all expressed deep sympathy for his wife Kate, their three children, and Rob’s parents. Some expressed the view that his life was wasted, cut short in its prime. It’s natural for us to feel this way because death is a robber and a usurper. It was not God’s original intent, and it’s not our final destiny. Yet I do not believe Rob would have said his life was wasted. It seems he knew the secret of living well – that those who try to hold on to their lives end up dead, while only those who give up their lives for the sake of King Jesus and his coming Kingdom find the life that death cannot destroy.
I can’t honestly say that I was Rob’s friend – I didn’t know him well enough for that. It’s his father Ken that I count as a friend and spiritual father. Yet I have been deeply impacted by Rob’s death, and the testimonies that followed about the compelling power of a life well lived. At yesterday’s service I found myself moved to tears at several points. I wept for Kate and her children who will grow up without their Dad, I wept for Ken and Lois and for the Hall and Cantelon families, I wept for Rob’s friends, but most of all I wept with love for God, gratitude towards Him, grief over wasted opportunities, and a deep, gut-wrenching conviction that I absolutely must live my life full-out for the King and the Kingdom. I know again, more deeply than before, that I don’t ever want to live without vision.
So let’s get really practical about this. I have discovered Equator Coffee. This may not be news to most of you, but about twelve years ago, Rob’s brother Craig and his wife Amber started a coffee-roasting business, dealing in organically grown fairly traded coffee. This is an expression of their desire to do what they can to see that coffee farmers get a fair return for their labour. It’s a way that I can buy good coffee and at the same time be confident that I am bringing a blessing to the families of the workers who grow that coffee. This is a simple act of economic justice. It’s something I have the power to do. I am planning to set up a buying group for friends at our church, and possibly one at work as well.
What has this got to do with the hope of resurrection? At first glance, nothing. In reality, everything. If I say I am placing my hope in Jesus’ return and His coming Kingdom, then I need to live by the values of that Kingdom now. That can take many forms – loving my wife and kids, singing love songs to Jesus, blessing the poor, praying for the sick, speaking hope to others in His name. If I have an opportunity to do good to someone in His name, I should do it. No such act is wasted if Jesus is on the throne.
Is my one small act going to change the world? No. Jesus has already changed the world. I am simply aligning myself with the new world that He is bringing into being – a new world that will be inherited by all those who have put their hope in Him and are choosing to live in the light of that hope here and now.
This is good grief – grief that is not wasted – grief that inspires us to live lives of faith, motivated by the hope of the Kingdom.
I believe Rob would be pleased.