"Wait for it!"
I suppose we could say that much of what is recorded in the Gospels is meant to prepare us for the afterlife and the promise of the Kingdom of God. It is not really meant to give us hope for the here and now. "Young man, I say to you, rise!" "Talitha Cum". "Lazarus, come out."
Oh how I wish Jesus had been present, and willing, to speak those words to my parishioners on many occasion during the course of my ministry. You see, Jesus did not just promise that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Jesus raised the dead. The widow in Nain received her son back. Talitha was raised, and her parent's 'gave her something to eat. Lazarus was raised, and to this side of eternity.
But Alison wasn't. Nor was Paul. Nor was Jazz. Or any of the other children I've buried over the course of my ministry. A year into my ministry, I buried three children in the course of 4 months. And this in a congregation of only 100 people. That's not what "youth ministry" is supposed to be. And it quickly brings home the reality and tragedy of death.
I particularly remember Alison's death. A fifteen year old, killed when she and a friend took a 66 Mustang for a joy ride one afternoon. She was thrown from the car at high speed, her head striking a tree 12 feet off the ground.
I preached at her funeral. "Talitha Cum". "There are lilies blooming at the foot of the cross." (It was November, but next to the cross outside our church, an Easter lily was blooming. True story.)
There is a certain 'finality' about death. We preach these resurrection stories at funerals, but leave out the part about Talitha, the young man from Nain, and Lazurus, being restored to THIS life. I would declare that Jesus promises "resurrection, NOT "resuscitation". Death has its say. And then, in the world to come, resurrection happens. But very few funeral processions have been interrupted by resurrection.
And then privately, parishioners would take me aside. And they would tell their stories. Following heart surgery, Dick's heart stopped, "flat lined". But though he was unconscious, still with the breathing tubes in, and with his eyes taped shut following surgery, he witnessed the medical team called in during the code, working on him. It was an out of body experience. The next day he recognized the nurse who had straddled him on the bed to work on him. She wasn't near as big as she had appeared when she was pounding on his chest. Dick believed he died, and was brought back to life.
Emma died on the operating table. It was Jesus who sent her back. She had a hard time speaking about that experience. But she clearly believed that she had left that operating room, and was at the gates of heaven, before Jesus came to her and told her to go back, it wasn't time yet.
And then I remember Joanne. She didn't die. Thrown from a car, down a rock embankment, yet found on the side of the road, paralyzed. Her grandfather approached me after it was over. "Pastor, it was difficult for me and Gary (his son-in-law, and Joanne's father) to get down to the car over all those rocks. We could see the rock where her head hit, there was blood on it. And then we wondered how she got back to the road. And so I tried to follow a 'blood trail' back to the road where she was found. Pastor, I've tracked many an elk through the woods, I can pick out a drop of blood on the forest floor, but on all of those bare rocks I could not find even a single drop of blood, from the car, all the way up the embankment to the road. And she had a nasty gash in her forehead and was bleeding enough to obscure her sight. How do you explain that?"
Is it possible that death is not so final, nor life so absolutely predictable, as it seems at times? Are angels real? Does God still intervene?
Of course many will seek more rational explanations. Following the accident, Joanne had a burst of adrenaline and a healthy dose of survival instinct and climbed up those rocks prior to the damage occurring to her spinal chord, and prior to the bleeding becoming so severe that it dropped on the ground. But Walt couldn't accept such an explanation. Gary didn't talk about it much as he remained puzzled. How, I don't know, but I choose to believe that God still acts. And on occasion, robs death.
But what do you say to Bob and Laurie? Alison wasn't saved from death. Or to Paul's parents? Or to Jazz's mom. Or to any of the countless others for whom death comes too soon? That God just didn't care enough to help them?
I can't answer such questions. I know we will all die one day. But it does appear, if you give any credence whatsoever, that some people 'die' more than once. Some people are given a second chance at life.
I wonder how close I've come to death, and if I would have died had it not been for God's grace. I know one time, my "angel" was a truck driver who realized I was asleep at the wheel, and pulled up alongside of me and blew his horn to wake me up. 75 miles an hour down the freeway, asleep. And yet I lived.
One thing I'd like to ask Jesus about, when I can, is just how many times over the course of my life did he save me from death.
We might all be surprised by that answer.
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