I recently came across an amazing story I hadn’t heard before.
It was in the year 1922, so not even 100 years ago. At the University of Toronto, there was a special hospital ward with children who were comatose and dying from diabetic keto-acidosis.
Doctors and scientists had identified diabetes in the 19th century – but couldn’t do anything about it. Even in 1922, there was no cure or remedy for it, except an extreme diet, which often consisted of 500 calories or less for diabetes patients – many who managed the disease that way died slowly of starvation or malnourishment.
My husband is a type 1 diabetic – and it’s quite astonishing to think that, if my husband had been born just a few decades earlier, he most likely would have died of diabetic keto-acidosis – or the consequences of a very strict diet.
So back to the hospital ward at the University of Toronto: Imagine a room full of parents sitting at the bedside waiting for the inevitable death of their child. Then a group of scientists, led by Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best, who had recently succeeded in isolating and purifying insulin, visited the ward with the comatose children. They went from bed to bed and injected the children with the new extract. As they began to inject the last comatose child, the first child injected began to awaken. One by one, all of the children awoke from their diabetic comas.
Can you imagine what that meant to the parents, who had waited for the inevitable death of their child? It must have felt like a miracle. A room of death and gloom, became a place of joy and hope. Those children with diabetes were yanked from the hands of death and brought back to life.
Think about it what miracles can be performed these days through medical treatment. How many people survived – and still survive – much longer because of medication, surgery, or other life-saving treatments.
No, these are not miracles as we find them in the Bible. The resuscitation of the children in Toronto cannot really be compared with raising of the daughter of the synagogue leader in today’s gospel story. However, there are definitely parallels – death was cheated, at least for the moment, in the case of the girl Jesus raised and in the cases of all those diabetic children being brought back to life through insulin. And I can imagine that the parents of the child in the 1st century AD and the parents of the children 20 centuries later had very similar feelings as they saw their children to be revived – that they felt relieved, amazed, even incredulous, maybe a little afraid, overjoyed. Grateful. And that they just couldn’t keep the good news to themselves, but had to share their amazing stories.
Where there had been despair, there now was hope. Where there had been death, there now was life.
As we all know, we can’t cheat death forever. People die, sometimes after a full life, sometimes much too early. This is a reality that we have to live with and have to deal with. And it is hard. When someone who is close to us, when someone whom we love dies, it always feels like a piece of us dies as well.
Now the world around us might try to make sense of death – it was their time, God
calls the best, he or she died with a purpose – but in the end, death is still senseless.
After all, Christ wouldn’t have died on the cross and conquered death through his
resurrection if death somehow were a good thing. Death is cruel, and it hurts. And
of course we should grieve, we should cry, we should wail when someone dies.
Even Jesus cried at the death of his friend Lazarus. Even Jesus was pained by his
own death. God knows death and dying are hard.
But – but – death doesn’t have the last word. Today’s gospel story is an example of
Christ’s power, of God’s power to conquer death and a foretaste of what is yet to
come – it shows us what awaits us all. The miracles we experience around us every
day give us hope that life has a stubborn way to prevail. There is something
beyond the sad and cruel and devastating reality of death. God promises us life eternal. As the beautiful vision at the end of the Book of Revelation tells us: there
will be a new heaven and a new earth, for the old things have passed away. And it
will be a realm where God wipes away every tear from our eyes and death and pain
and mourning and crying will be no more.
Yes, we live in a world where we are surrounded by death. But there is hope. Hope
that all those we remember today and mourn about today have been welcomed into
this peaceable realm of God and experience life in God’s presence. Hope that we
all, once we die, will be raised and live.
So today we come with tears. We come with our hurts. That’s good, and it’s
salutary. We don’t have to hide it from God, who knows what it is like to weep, to
mourn, to grieve. And God, like a mother, embraces us in our pain, holds us, and
wipes away the tears with a gentle hand. It is a God who touches us, who is close
to us, and who shares our pain. And it is the same God who promises: I will be
with you always.
I died for you and with you so that you may have life eternal in me.
This post is also available in: German