Jesse, Jesus, And The Death Of Death

January 28, 2013 § 7 Comments

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of my friend, Jesse Berlin. I will most likely never forget the phone call I received the morning of January 28, 2012 from a mutual friend who was closest to Jesse.  The phone call began with these words: “Jesse’s dead man, he’s dead.”  That statement, combined with my friend’s distraught tone of voice was the most haunting thing I had ever heard.  That moment and those words rang in my ears for weeks, and I can still hear it today.

Jesse’s death was completely unexpected.  Jesse was a 21 year old guy in seemingly excellent physical condition.  He had no bad habits or health abuses leading to his death, and far as I know, his autopsy revealed no clear reason for his death.  He was simply taken.  He spent his last night on this earth rehearsing with his band, going out to dinner with his parents, and playing guitar for them in their living room.  Jesse eventually retired to his room at the end of the night.  Nothing was out of place.

It was the next morning that I received the news.  I had first received a series of texts from mutual friends communicating to me that Jesse was rushed to the hospital and was not breathing.  However, I had no idea as to the severity of the situation.  Upon reading the messages I quickly texted Jesse’s closest friend, Derrick, and resolved to pray for Jesse.  It was only moments later that I received the phone call I will never forget.  Derrick and I both wept and prayed together, which was only the beginning of the mourning that would follow.

I traveled to St. Louis for the viewing and funeral still in shock over the situation.  Growing up, I had never lost any friends or loved ones in such a way as this, and even if I had, I imagine that there is no way I could have prepared myself for those moments.  I could never have prepared for the tears, the sorrow, and the darkness I witnesses in the eyes of many who had gathered to honor and mourn for their son, brother, cousin, and friend.  Everyone was in a state of shock, speaking of how they had just seen Jesse the day or week before, and how he had his whole life ahead of him.  It was all so surreal.

But despite the shock, there was deep sorrow.  There was incredible pain for those of us who knew Jesse.  You see, Jesse was a kind man, and the kind of man you would want as your friend.  He was loyal, trustworthy, and honest.  Anyone who had ever spent five minutes with him knew that he was extremely funny and had a great sense of humor.  He was light-hearted, yet passionate.  I am thankful to have been his friend.  It is difficult to look back on our friendship and remember anything but joy.  To put it simply, Jesse was a joy to all who were able to share his presence.  The joy experienced by those who were around Jesse is reason why his death hurt so much, and continues to hurt as much as it does.

The reason I am writing today is twofold: First, I want to honor my old friend.  I loved Jesse.  We had some incredible times together.  I am thankful to have even known him, and honored to have shared the same stage with him.  Jesse will be missed for a tremendously long time.  Second, experiencing the sorrow of Jesse’s death reminded me of something greater, the Gospel of Jesus.  As I was sitting in the funeral service for Jesse, the Spirit of God led my thoughts beyond what we could immediately see.  What was immediate was the lifeless body of my friend, a reminder that death is a reality to all, young or old, and can come at any time.  But even though death was before my eyes, with all of its sadness, all I could think about was the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  Even in those moments of sorrow and seeming despair, I was reminded, strengthened, and comforted by the hope and glory of Jesus’ death on the cross for sins and his victory over death in being raised from the dead.

As the service unfolded, I was overcome by the truth and hope of the Gospel, which proclaims that through Jesus, death does not win.  Death does not have the final say because it has been overcome.  Yes, death has been overcome by Jesus, who by his dying and being raised defeated death by death.  In the resurrection Jesus won a powerful victory over sin and death, so that its power does not reign supreme, as it has been revealed that those who’s trust and joy are in Jesus will someday share in his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-58).

It is because of this Gospel that I can rejoice in sorrow and have hope that I will someday see my friend Jesse again.  But until then, I will continue to be strengthened by the words of the apostle Paul written to the troubled church in Corinth so many years ago.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).