When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.
There is a brutal reality to death that cannot be softened. When his father Jacob dies we read that, “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.” Old age may make death more expected, but nothing makes it less heartbreaking.
Joseph had been robbed of his best years with his father, reconnecting only as an adult. When he first heard Jacob was nearing Egypt, Joseph raced out in his chariot to meet him along the way.
Reunions are meant to be joyous occasions. At their best, they are times when loved ones gather to reminisce, laugh, and feast. In this case, the beloved was restored to his family. Jacob and Joseph’s reunion was filled with the triumph of a father and son, once separated by what seemed like forever, reunited.
The revelation at Jacob’s death, that he, “was gathered to his people” is not simply a Hebrew euphemism. This is one of the first images scripture reveals about the afterlife. Like Joseph’s feelings when he fell headlong into his father’s arms, death, for the faithful, is a reunion of inexpressible joy.
Death may be a present reality, but time is not eternity. 2 Corinthians observes that Christians are, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Now death; soon life.
Even Jesus wept at a funeral — yet death did not get the last word. He called Lazarus from the grave. Resurrection is a fundamentally relational concept in the scriptures. It not only brings life to body and soul, it restores the community of believers. In resurrection a fractured world is brought to integrity through the embrace of God.
No wonder the prophets of the New Testament would rejoice at the image of the resurrection as the great banquet of heaven. Together we shall delight in new life. Moreover, whatever joy we experience as we reunite with friends and family shall be fully eclipsed by the triumph of living in harmony with our Father.
Prayers from the Past
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: in all my trials and sufferings you have given me the strength to stand firm; in your mercy you have granted me a share of eternal glory.
— Irenaeus of Sirmium prior to his martyrdom under Diocletian c. 304 C.E.
Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org