Third Thursday of Advent: The Wrong Answer
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
I still remember the phone call on that balmy April evening 26 years ago.
Julie, my CCO supervisor, was on the other end of the line, and her gentle voice was serious as she prepared me for hard news: “Amy, I am so sorry to tell you this. Kris was killed this evening when she was out riding her bike.”
I felt as though the breath had been knocked out of me.
Kris was one of my campus ministry colleagues. We had started on CCO staff at the same time, just three years earlier. At age 27, she was a couple of years older than me—and far too young to die.
A few days later, I attended her standing-room-only memorial service in the chapel at Washington & Jefferson College.
I had attended a few funerals in my young life, but none for someone so young and healthy. None for someone so confident in her faith that there seemed to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was now with Jesus.
A week later, after the memorial service and funeral and burial, CCO staff were gathered for a regularly scheduled Staff Seminar. This was the place where Kris would have been recognized for completing her contracted commitment to her campus ministry work, the place where we would have sent her off, into the next chapter of her working life.
Before we moved on to our usual business, another friend and colleague stood up to share his story with us.
Steve was only a year older than Kris. As a college student, he participated in the CCO’s very first Ocean City Beach Project, a summer leadership and discipleship opportunity. He had barely arrived in New Jersey when he got the news—on his 20th birthday—that his mother had died.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as Steve told his story. And then he said words I’ve never forgotten and have repeatedly been grateful for:
“Death is wrong. Death is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s OK to be angry at death.”
He encouraged us—many of whom had little experience dealing with this kind of loss—to face the grief head on. “There’s no way around it,” he told us. “We need to go through it.”
And then he said this: “Do not try to explain away the darkness.”
Steve had no idea that he was preparing me for every death I would experience in the coming years—including his own.
Just a few short years after Kris was hit by a car while riding her bicycle, Steve played a lunchtime game of basketball at the college where he was serving as Dean of Students. He returned to his office, and shortly afterward, he collapsed and died. It turned out that he had an enlarged heart, and he had overworked it on the basketball court.
In what still feels like a cruel twist, Steve died on his son’s sixth birthday.
In 2006, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died nine months later.
Four years ago, in early December, my father went into the hospital and ended up undergoing surgery to remove an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He never recovered. He died two days after Christmas.
As I helped plan the funerals of my parents, Steve’s admonition to go through the pain stayed with me, even as the promises of Revelation 21 comforted me. The paradoxical, now-but-not-yet mystery—and hope—of Advent continues to reverberate.
“Death is wrong. Death is not the way it’s supposed to be. Do not try to explain away the darkness.”
And, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Amy Maczuzak serves the CCO as Senior Editor, as a member of the Marketing & Communications Team. She started working with the CCO in 1988 and spent her first five years on staff working with students at Geneva College and Gannon University.