I was headed to Perugia, Italy via Switzerland and then Rome when I met a man who shamed me in my understanding of death and dying.
He was dressed in a grey burlap robe that touched the floor, and his navy baseball cap looked out of place perched atop his shaven head. At first he struck me as Middle Eastern. It took me a moment to notice the rosary beads and cross draped around his waste in a belt-like fashion. As he slung his bag into the storage compartment, he smiled and made a joke about the small seats, indicating that he would need to get past the aisle seat I was struggling to settle into. I returned the smile as I let him pass and asked where he was from. “I’m French,” he replied, not answering my question directly, but claiming his nationality. I learned that he was a Catholic monk and had moved to Peoria, Illinois, about an hour from my hometown, to live in a monastery there. He was traveling home to France to attend the funeral of his monastery’s founder.
When I offered my condolences, he quickly replied, "For us it's not a sad thing. It's the best thing that could happen." Holding my John Piper book and my Bible, I felt suddenly ashamed. Of course! Shouldn't I, the protestant girl with all the good theology, know about hoping for Heaven?
To my dismay, he fell asleep almost immediately and our social interaction was cut short. But I shall never forget the wise monk who understood the secret of "looking for the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
I praised God for that Frenchman today as I walked to my car. There are many tears to come this weekend as I grieve the loss of my dear Grandpa in this life. But I am trying desperately to hold on to those words from the Swiss Air flight four years ago: "It's the best thing that could happen."
As Christians, we hold these two things in tension: the bitterness of losing a brother of sister in this life and the joy in knowing that the gospel has achieved its fullness in them in the next life.
The Caedmon's Call lyrics that cheered me in my grandma's death this fall put it well:
where our shackles turn to diamonds
and we trade in our rags
for a royal crown
on that Day
our oppressors hold no power
and the doors of the King are thrown wide