The mournful sound of "Taps" echoed slowly across the gently rolling hills of the cemetery one county over from our church. One of our members, a veteran of the United States Air Force, was being laid to rest. I stood in reverential awe through it all; the 21-gun salute, the folding and presentation of the flag. It was all so well befitting of one who served in honor.
But death still took him; death is no respecter of honor.
The next morning was Sunday, and for one of less than a dozen times in more than 22 years, I would not be in my own church for morning worship. I was driving exactly 100 miles to get to another church where the funeral of a dear pastor friend's wife would be held.
The church was packed. Metal folding chairs were being placed down every aisle beside the pews. Six other pastors had done as I and were in attendance. The service was lovely and lighthearted; though there were tears, there was also a great deal of joy. This sweet lady had been the faithful spouse of her husband for 55 years and had served selflessly beside him in that church for 45 years. One person after another stood to give testimony of how her service had benefited them along the way.
But death still took her; death is no respecter of service.
On the way back to my church that afternoon, my wife called. "Do you have the radio on?" she asked. When I told her that I did not, she said, "You may want to turn it on; Kobe Bryant just died in a helicopter crash."
I was stunned. But sure enough she was correct. He was still in top physical shape, a transcendent generational talent, a man with more money than most of us will ever possess, world famous and had achieved a level of success in his field that few will ever know.
But death still took him; death is no respecter of health, talent, money, fame or success.
Just as tragic and even more so, his precious 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, a budding athletic prodigy in her own right, also perished in the crash. Thirteen years old is young, so very, very young.
But death still took her; death is no respecter of age, old or young or anywhere in between.
It was not always like this. When God made mankind, he made him to be immortal. He breathed his breath into man, and man became a living soul. It was not until the fall of man in Genesis 3 that death was injected into the human experience. But since that time it has been the universal enemy of us all. Old, young, rich, poor, well-educated, utterly illiterate, red, yellow, black, brown, white, male, female, honorable, scoundrel — death cares for none of those distinctions and takes everyone out of all classes.
But another day is coming.
1 Corinthians 15 is one of the longest sections of Scripture in the New Testament. It deals with the resurrection of Christ, and the fact that since he arose, we who believe in him will also. But among all of that, Paul turned his attention squarely to death itself and wrote these words: The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
We see the ultimate fulfillment of that promise in Revelation 20:14 where death itself will be cast into the lake of fire. We could say that death will die that day, and good riddance to it.
But in the meantime, we have a great hope to carry us through. As my pastor friend jokingly observed, speaking at his own wife's funeral, "She always said one day she was going to leave me, and now she's gone and done it." But then in full seriousness he added, "But I know where she's at, and I'll catch up to her in just a little while."
That is the truth that believers in Christ can hang their hearts on until the day death finally dies.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. Email him at 2know firstname.lastname@example.org.