Late at night on April 26, 2006, a man fell asleep at the wheel of the truck he was driving down an Indiana highway. The huge truck and trailer crossed the center line and crashed into the front of a van of college students and staff returning from a banquet. Five people in the van were killed and three were seriously injured. Funerals were held for those killed, and the injured began the long process of healing from their critical injuries.
What happened five weeks later became an international news story that you may remember. As one of the more seriously injured girls slowly recovered, her head injuries healed and facial swelling decreased, and the family at her bedside began to notice that she did not look like their loved one. As she emerged from her coma and began to speak, it became clear that she was not who everyone first thought she was. There was a case of mistaken identity at the accident scene. The wrong girl had been pronounced dead. There had already been a funeral held for the girl now in that hospital bed; and the family who had for five weeks sat at her bedside, learned that their own daughter and sister had, in fact, been dead all the while.
In an instant, everything changed for two families. For the one family, grief turned to unexpected, unimaginable joy– their daughter was alive. For the other family, joy and hope was turned into grief– their daughter had been dead and buried for weeks.
This sort of mistake does not happen very often, and the story made international news. What is not so unusual is the fact that life can change just that fast for anyone, anytime. Joy can turn to sorrow, or sorrow can turn to joy, in an instant.
We all go back and forth between good and bad times in our lives, but we do know that our story on this earth ends in sorrow. However, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything. Jesus has promised us that by believing in him, even that final sorrow can be turned into joy– in an instant.
James 4:13-14 — Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
John 16:20-22 — (Jesus said), “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
I Corinthians 15:51-52 — Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Jeremiah 31:13b — (The Lord said), “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
Almighty God, you have taught us that they who mourn shall be comforted, and that in our grief we may turn to you. Because our need is beyond any help we can receive in this world, we pray that you grant us your peace, and turn our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, who hast appointed unto men once to die, but hast hidden from them the time of their death, help us so to live in this world that we may be ready to leave it; and that, being thine in death as in life, we may come to that rest that remaineth for thy people; through him who died and rose again for us, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–William Bright, English Church historian, (1824-1901), Private Prayers for a Week, 1882.
From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us, Oh Lord.