Beti loved adventure and loved to invite others to join in them. Her latest thrill was skydiving. “You should come with me,” she told Sam. “You’re crazy,” he replied,” “There is no way I’m jumping out of a plane. Why do you like stunts like that, anyway?” “Because they give me joy.” “And what if your parachute doesn’t open?” “Then I’ll be with Jesus.” On Sunday, Beti’s parachute didn’t open and she went to be with Jesus.
The news went out on Monday morning. It went out first to the pastors and then to the rest of the congregation. There was shock and disbelief and sorrow. And immediately there was a deep need to be together. We didn’t know exactly what we needed to do, but we knew exactly where we needed to be. By Monday evening nearly 100 of us had gathered at the church.
We prayed with one another, we read Scripture to one another, we reassured one another of truth, we told stories and shared memories of Beti, we reminded each other of the evidences of God’s grace that had been so clear in her life. We also sang with and for one another. And it was as we sang that I saw something remarkable. I saw beautiful defiance.
Grace Fellowship Church is a submissive congregation, and I mean this in the absolute best sense. The people of Grace deliberately submit themselves to the will of God as he reveals it in the Word of God. They do their utmost to “be subject to the governing authorities,” knowing, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). They “obey [their] leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over [their] souls” and they “let them do this with joy and not with groaning” (Hebrews 13:17). They “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), gladly laying aside personal preference so they can be a blessing and an encouragement to others. They take submission seriously and practice it humbly.
But on Monday night, as I watched my church sing, I saw a holy defiance on every face. They sang of what is true about death in “It Is Not Death To Die,” and proclaimed these words: “It is not death to fling / Aside this earthly dust / And rise with strong and noble wing / To live among the just.” Then they sang “We Will Feast in the House of Zion” and declared the ultimate future hope in which they will be united to Jesus and reunited with those who have gone on before. “We will feast in the house of Zion / We will sing with our hearts restored / He has done great things, we will say together / We will feast and weep no more.” And, of course, they sang “It Is Well,” to remind themselves and one another that even in the deepest sorrow they have the highest hope. “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, / The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; / The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, / Even so, it is well with my soul.”
Though there were tears in every eye, the church sang. They sang loudly, they sang skillfully, they sang defiantly. They had gathered just hours after learning of a terrible tragedy, hours after learning of the death of a dear friend, and they joined together to defy death, to deny death the victory. They proclaimed that death may have accomplished a minor setback, but that the war has already been won. They stood together in the face of death and raised the roof with the message of the one who has overcome death. Even as they mourned a loss, they celebrated a victory. Even as they wept tears of pain, they wept tears of hope. They were beautiful and powerful and resolute in their defiance. It was a sight to behold.