August 26: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Have you ever been with someone when they died? I have on more than one occasion, and it is a sacred moment. It was an amazing privilege to have the opportunity to “walk my mom to the gate.” While I realize that every death has its own distinctions and heartaches, I am so grateful to the Lord that He allowed me to be with her when that sweet chariot swung down and took her to the arms of her Savior.

My mom was only in residence at the Hospice House for 37 hours, but during that time, as the nurses and volunteers came and went, checking on her needs and ours, several of them commented on the peace they sensed around her bedside. One nurse added, “It isn’t always that way.” I was able to testify that we had peace because Mom knew where she was going, and because there weren’t any unresolved issues in our family. It is a blessing I don’t, for even one moment, take for granted.

Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” It might be difficult to think of death as “precious.” Death was not our destiny when God created man. We were meant to live in His presence forever, in deep fellowship with Him and with one another. We were never meant to know the pain of separation—for that is the meaning of death in Hebrew.

Sin brought death—separation. That was true in the Garden, and it is true today. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you . . .” When sin occurred, man was immediately separated from his union with the Lord. Spiritual death was instantaneous. Can you imagine the horror of how that must have felt? It was so frightening that Adam and Eve hid themselves. This separation was their state then, and it remains the state of all mankind until we are reconciled to God through Christ.

Sin also had an immediate effect of separating and alienating people from one another, too. While they fell into sin together, Adam and Eve quickly turned on one another. What had once been a relationship characterized by openness, ease, and fulfillment suddenly became full of shame and blame. The relationship before the fall was dead, and nothing would be the same after that.

Another thing that died was man’s relationship with the rest of creation. Before sin there was no death; now animals had to die to cover the sin of man and his nakedness. The ground no longer willingly yielded its bounty to man; he had to toil upon it.

Finally, sin brought the physical death that separates us from our bodies and from those we love. It is the ultimate separation, often fraught with much pain and suffering of body and emotions. This is why Paul writes so much about what Jesus did to break the power of the curse of death and reconcile us back, to restore that union we were meant to have with our Creator and Father. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For He ‘has put everything under His feet’ . . . ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ . . . ‘Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ . . . But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:27, 54b-55, 57).

These truths and so many others are why we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. That’s why in my mom’s room there was “good grief.” We sorrowed at our loss but were comforted by her gain, her relief, and her reconciliation. And being reconciled ourselves, we knew we would be reunited with her, never to be separated again. “Thanks be to God,” indeed! Now she is in the presence of the One who conquered sin and death and took away its sting.

For those of us who rest in the full and sufficient salvation won for us by the finished work of Jesus, death is not the enemy it is to those who are lost. Scripture assures us: “. . . by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). “But it now has been revealed to us through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and who brought immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). “If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection” (Romans 6:5).

We can sing this anthem with joy and assurance because the chariot will come for us one day, and it will take us swiftly to the side of the One who loved us so much He gave His life to bring us to see His glory and experience “eternal pleasures at His right hand.” Swing low, Sweet Chariot!

by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries