We sing joyfully about ascending to heaven and read scripture eagerly awaiting our arrival, yet we often become afraid and mournful when the day comes for both ourselves and loved ones.
Friday, March 6, I was running around my dorm room gathering and packing for a spring break mission trip to Atlanta, which I was leaving for early the next morning. As I settled into bed, I received an update from some friends who left for their mission trip to New York that afternoon: one of the cars traveling with their team had gotten into a “wreck.” It was around 1 a.m., and I originally believed them to be kidding with me, to gain a laugh during their 22 hour drive across the country; however, I quickly learned the event was no joke.
While traveling on a Kentucky interstate, one of the vehicles of the caravan was involved in a fatal multi-car accident. The car held three team members. One passenger walked away with minor injuries, another air lifted and taken in for surgery, and the driver died soon after the crash.
The other members of the New York caravan were not part of the multi-car accident and met together at the Louisville hospital to support one another.
When I received the phone call at 6 a.m. with the news of the driver’s death, my heart dropped.
All those who knew Nicholas mourned his death, and many continue to.
When I first learned of the accident, I was angry. I was angry with God for such a tragedy to occur, and wished I could rewind time and assure the safety of the New York team. My heart ached for those who were hurting, and I longed to comfort those involved.
I didn’t know Nicholas well, I had only met him through encounters with a classmate and friend who had been dating him, who was also a passenger with him in the car that night. Though I never developed a relationship with him, I sit here in awe of him and the life he lived.
Over the past week, I have attended three separate services for Nicholas, and I feel like I have gotten to know him through several anecdotes and statements made about him.
He was a Godly man, always yearning to serve. Humble and loving, Nicholas left an impact on everyone he met. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and we will never be able to understand why, for God’s ways far surpass our knowledge and comprehension (or else he wouldn’t be God).
The story is a tragic one; however, I’ve grown to view it slightly differently. One man speaking at a service the night after the accident said it best. He told the parable of the workers who worked in a field, some worked all day while some only for a short time, but all the workers received the same reward.
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. These who were hired last worked only one hour’ they said. ‘ and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.
But he answered them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pah and go, I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.” Matthew 20: 8-14
The reward of uniting with God in heaven for eternity is greater than we could ever comprehend, and nothing could ever come close to being worth more. The man at the service explained that Nicholas only worked for a short time, yet still gained the same reward as those who work a lifetime, like many of us will, so Nicholas would tell us we should be jealous, not sad.
From Nicholas’s perspective, the story is happy one. He has been united with God, and he rests in the place we all dream of going. We sing hymns of going to heaven and read scripture about our reward after death, I think we forget how incredible and joyous it is for those who receive their reward so soon or unexpectedly.
Just as Christ overcame death, so do those who believe in Christ and follow him. Except, instead of walking around this earth before ascending, we have a one way direct ticket to meet with our father.
Death affects the loved ones left behind, but the ones who pass rejoice in gladness, for the righteous person receives his or her reward in full. Nicholas’s life had been lived as a testament to God, and he now lives where he belongs, the place where we are all eager to go, where there is no pain, but joy and peace beyond our imagination.
“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 way. 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.’ He said to me. ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End…” Revelation 21:4-6