I attended an amazing funeral in May of 2008. It was for John, the music minister of the church I attended in college. This man was a beloved member of our church community, as well as a tremendous musician and worship leader who had brought many people into God’s presence with his talents. John’s funeral was a beautiful tribute to him and a vision of that day in the future when Christ will return and all will be made right.
When John died of cancer, his wife Margie was widowed, with two young children. And yet, one of the most memorable aspects of John’s funeral to me was something that Margie did. During the first half of the service, she wore a black shawl, symbolic of her grief and mourning. But after the proclamation of Christ’s rising from the dead in the liturgy, Margie took off the black shawl and replaced it with a white one. I was surprised at first and taken aback by the statement hope and of God’s ability to redeem even death. In a way, I wanted the funeral to remain sad, because that’s how I felt. And yet the wife of the dead man, in the midst of her pain, was telling us, as she wrote in a letter to the congregation: “The love of God is deeper than the deepest valley and we know that we will see Him face to face.”
This memory surfaced as I read from the book of Jonah this week:
In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
And you listened to my cry
You hurled me into the depths,
Into the very heart of the seas,
And the currents swirled about me;
All your waves and breakers
Swept over me.
I said, “I have been banished from your sight;
Yet I will look again
Toward your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:2-5)
I did a double-take when I read this passage, just as I did when I saw a widow draped in a white shawl at her husband’s funeral. I paused because right before Jonah’s prayer, in the first verse of the chapter, the text says, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.” I was confused at first, because Jonah prays as if he has already been delivered, and with confidence that his deliverance will continue—while he is still in the belly of the fish. Jonah had been saved from drowning when the fish swallowed him, and he was grateful for that, but he had no guarantee of making it out of the fish alive. And yet, Jonah prays in the future tense, saying,
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, “Salvation comes from the LORD.” (Jonah 9:9)
As Christians, we have a complicated relationship with time. We know that Jesus has the victory—He died and rose, conquering death. And yet, we live in a world where men of God succumb to cancer, where drownings and near-drownings take place, and where we find ourselves stuck in situations that we cannot see a way out of. We often don’t feel the power of the resurrection in these situations, and it’s hard to pray with any confidence in God’s deliverance.
Even so, I encourage you to do so. There is power (and Biblical precedent) in thanking God for what He will do, in light of what He has done. Some people call this the “already-not yet” conundrum, and it is our challenge and privilege to join Jonah in prayer and Margie in her white shawl in expectation and celebration of God’s redemption.