The last time I saw him was over 40 years ago.
Jon was 21 years old with that thick neck and quick twitch of a college football player. He had a great smile and was tough as nails. For my last two seasons, we lined up next to each other in the huddle between every play. Football was the closest I’ll ever get to battle and Jon was the perfect soldier to have at my side. We rejoiced together in victory and agonized together in defeat. The bond of blood, sweat and tears made him feel like a brother on the field.
I graduated and moved a thousand miles away to start seminary. Jon was a class behind me and so I never saw him at class reunions. In fact, I never saw him again at all. He stayed, in my mind’s eye, 21 years old and full of life and vigor and energy. He was, in my memory, immortal.
And then I found out he died.
I learned that he was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 30 and given months to live. I learned that he asked God to allow him to see his children grow up, and he welcomed three grandchildren into the world. I found pictures of him as a middle aged man, with a normal sized neck and thinner hair. I read of his death surrounded by family who loved him, and that powerful body ravaged by cancer.
I was reminded that, if we live long enough, we grow old. Our bodies wear out and our minds fade. I remembered that we are but dust and to dust we return; that are lives are but a vapor and our years but a moment. I recalled that time moves forward relentlessly and death is part of our human experience.
But I was also reminded that God made us for something more; that the empty tomb is evidence of Christ’s victory over death and hell and the grave. I remembered that Jon’s trust in Jesus as his Savior meant he knew the promise of God for his eternity; that death is not the end for the child of God, but the transition into his presence and the home he has prepared for his children.
I have felt the reality of my own mortality more acutely since learning of Jon’s death. The immortal, it seems, die. But I’ve also understood another truth more fully.
In Christ, the mortal live.