Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
[Genesis 23:19 NIV]
Today marks the 3rd Wedding Anniversary that will pass since Heidi’s death and what would have been our 10th wedding anniversary. I write these special notes in memory of her in much the same way it was important for Moses to make a point of letting us know that Abraham buried his wife in a cave in the field of Machepelah near Mamre. It is also important for us to know Abraham’s dear Sarah was buried in the land of Canaan.
Of all the details of history we ought to know about the patriarch Abraham and his family, where he buried his wife seems oddly important.
It is good remember those we love and those who’ve loved us. But if I was brutally honestly with you, there is a place deep in my heart that struggles with some degree of uncertainty as to how exactly to think about the death of my spouse.
Believing what I believe about Philippians 2, for instance, I sense some needed grace in this struggle:
“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”
Philippians 1:23 NIV
Perhaps the intensity of that sense of “being torn” varies from spouse to spouse (or season to season) but if being torn, even a little bit, means anything, then it would seem at least as much to mean that the experiences on earth are in fact profoundly important despite the plain fact that being with Christ is “better by far” than, in my opinion, all those experiences combined. We should never make light of our time together while we live. Not even for a moment.
How important are our marriages and relationships on this side of Heaven? I think in many respects misunderstand the impact we are making on one another’s lives…the kind of impact that will literally last forever…for eternity. We also know that as long as our lives and relationships endure, that enduring presence of those we love and who love us is a tangible manifestation of what God would deem as “necessary”.
“…but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith…”
[Philippians 1:24-25 NIV]
Paul is convinced of these two things: (1) Being with Christ is better than life on earth AND (2) until such time, being here on earth is a necessity.
Perhaps you wonder to yourself: Why won’t God automatically grant us what is technically necessarily far better for us…right now?
The answer is simple: He actually always does and will. If you are in the body, that is a necessary aspect of God’s will for your life and for the lives of those around you. There is an appointed time when it will no longer be necessary for you and I to remain in the body, and that is determine by the Father.
My Kinship with Abraham
I buried Heidi on April 1, 2021 in a small plot in the field of Putnam Cemetery, near our home (which was in Norwalk) in the land of Greenwich, Connecticut. There were less than 20 of us present and we sang the hymn, Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer. During this time, we sought comfort from God’s Word, we confessed our faith, we prayed together, entrusted her into the hands of God, shared our memories of her and closed our time in another prayer. Our pastor then gave us a benediction.
The entire burial took about 30-45 minutes, I forget exactly. The groundskeeper then placed Heidi’s remains into the ground. We laid flowers in the plot afterwards, then the groundskeeper covered her remains with the dirt of the ground that was opened and wherein she was placed. Then the groundskeeper invited me to place the last portion of dirt to cover her plot, completing her burial into the earth.
I distinctly remember feeling as if I had completed my duty to her as her husband. I was her head and her covering while she lived in marriage with me. Now, at that moment, by her death, I was released from the law of marriage.
Death in Canaan and in Tents
At best, all death is a death in the Land of Canaan, and like Abraham and Sarah, we all dwell in tents. The Land of Canaan was later the Promised Land, but even an earthly promised land is not our true home.
In this sense, all Christians die in a land not their own.
“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.”
[Hebrews 11:9 NIV]
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. … 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
[2Corinthians 5:1, 4 NIV]
True life is found in the person of Christ. When we have Christ, we have life and immoralityTweet
True Canaan and True Tents
There is no such thing as death in the true Land of Canaan because in the true land, we are truly living – living in Christ who has swallowed up death so that no one who is in him will ever taste it again. There will be some who do not taste death but all of us will put off the perishable and put on imperishable.
Heaven is the true Canaan and glory is our true tent.
But in order to make sense of this future hope, we needed Christ to die a death in a land not his own, and then after being buried rise again on the third day, just as the Scriptures foretold, to prepare a home that is our true.
We needed Christ to cross the Jordan of death by his death and resurrection in order to bring us safely and forever secure across the Jordan of death whereby we enter a true and lasting promised land of heaven.
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”
[John 14:2 NIV]
Christ died in a land not his own after dwelling in a tent like those he came to save.
Hope for men and woman who bury their spouses is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. When Christ, our Ever True and Great Head rose from the dead, the whole myriad of grief lost its undergirding power, that is death. Now that death is dead, we look forward to our resurrection and the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Death and Remarriage
I can’t tell you how long after Heidi’s death I began thinking about remarriage. But one of the things I’ve come to notice since her death is how God has designed within the structure of his creation what I like to think of as ‘gospel glimpses’. That is to say, stories and glimpses of death and resurrection. We see glimpses in every field of flowers. Today, flowers are here and tomorrow they die. In the next season, the field offers new “resurrected” flowers. There is a kind of death and resurrection in the changing of the seasons.
I think remarriage is a similar glimpse of resurrection. Death is a curse and the death of your spouse is a terrible touch point in tasting death without ourselves actually physically dying. And now that their death has come upon us, we groan in ways like never before. We experience our immortality in ways like never before.
As much as a surviving spouse may yearn for a reconnection of new love found in remarriage, the true yearning stirring within is that of a resurrection.
But in order for our groaning to find peace that lasts, we must die to be with the Lord which we know as Paul declared, is better by far.
Remarriage is a glimpse of resurrection just as marriage is picture of Christ and his church. Christ, our head, was the first one to die the kind of the death that he died, and the first to rise again so that he can guarantee and secure our place at the table of the wedding supper of the Lamb.