Monday, April 21, 2014

The Easter Funeral

This past week, a dear lady from our church was fighting her last battle, and losing. From the moment I walked into the hospital room and saw her frailty and then as her first words to me were "I don't think I'm going to make it pastor," I knew it would take a miracle to turn things around.

We prayed, as we have over the last couple of years she has struggled with pneumonia and infections, that God would bring healing to her body. But even as Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday showed improvement  in her appearance and even her ability to communicate, it became clearer that it was her time.

On Friday, she rallied and entertained everyone who came near her with her humor and off the wall comments. On Saturday, she was still and quiet. Her breathing was slower, and a little more labored.

There is a strange joy in knowing she is ready to go. A strange peace knowing she was at peace with her maker. She had settled that account long ago, knowing that because Jesus died on the cross for her sins, knowing that she trusted in what Jesus had done, she would wake up in the presence of her savior.

There is always a sadness in death. A sadness as she told me she wasn't going to make it. But with a follower of Jesus, the sadness is overshadowed. She was still worried about her family. She was still in pain from the broken state of her body. But her humor shown through as we talked about the funeral. After all, Bernice always had a good sense of humor.

On Saturday night, after all the family had left the hospital for the evening, Bernice quietly breathed her last on this earth and went home to be with her Savior. I imagine it was pretty good day all around for her. As she lay there in the hospital bed, with her family surrounding her, to hear them talking about what 'ma' or 'Aunt Bernice' (niecey) had done for them, or said to them, about what she meant to them. And then, thinking on those thoughts, and looking forward to being reunited with her son, she slipped away from this life. And, just like that, the pain was gone, the mortal bands that held her back were gone and the joy of being surrounded by family was eclipsed by being in the presence of her Savior.

I remember how much Bernice enjoyed Easter morning in church. Handing out candies to the kids, having her grand-daughters all dressed up in beautiful dresses and by her side, rejoicing in the resurrection! I think this past Easter morning was far more grand and glorious for Bernice.

So yes, we will have a funeral this Wednesday morning. We will have visiting / viewing hours on Tuesday night. But these are just details to help those who are left behind. Bernice is already home. And while she awaits the resurrection, she is already free. I will miss her, but because I know she is free, I will celebrate with her. It is the same as when a friend moves away because of a life-changing job offer or opportunity. We celebrate through our sorrow. We will continue our new 'tradition.' In the foyer, greeting all those who come to pay their last respects, will be a cake. A bright and cheery cake that congratulates Bernice on her promotion. It won't erase the tears of sorrow left by her absence, but will remind us that she is finally home.

It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.

It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake, in glorious repose,
To spend eternal years.

It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust
And rise, on strong exulting wing
To live among the just.

Jesus, Thou Prince of Life,
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife
To reign with Thee on high.

- Henri Malan, translated by George Bethune

Because Jesus is risen, there is hope, there is promise, there is life!
Keep looking up!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In Difficult Situations . . .

You know, there are times  when we are tempted to look at what God asks from us (trust and faith) and think "You know, I have faith, but in this situation I just don't see a solution."

It is times like these that God has us just where he wants us. It is times like these that God is ready to glorify His name because we have run out of options that we can see working out. It is times like these that we know our answer came from God.

Sometimes, when confronted by a difficult situation, we are tempted to think our situation is worse than anyone else has had to deal with. That our situation is graver, that no one has ever struggled as badly as we have struggled. Among other reasons, I think this is one reason that II Kings 6:24-7:20 is in our Bibles. It is rough. It is raw. And it is hopeless.

There was a famine in the land so cupboards were bare.
The Syrians had laid siege of Samaria so there was no food or supplies coming into the city.
A donkey's head was sold for 80 pieces of silver. (A year's wages in those days)
Some dove's dung was sold for 5 pieces of silver (20 day's wages)
Two women made a pact to 'share' their sons. (Eating one one day, and the other the next)

Think about the hopelessness. How bad would it have to be for someone to consider selling dove dung, much less buying it? A year's wages for a donkey head? Even at minimum wage, we're talking over $15,000 in the US economy (I guess I would call that relative dollars - what it would feel like to those of us living in the US today) It was so bad a woman thought to suggest eating children, and even worse, desperate enough that it sounded like a good idea! I am glad that I cannot imagine a situation that tough.

And in the midst of this, God provides. And his provision involves lepers, the invading army, an incredulous King, and an imaginary army (that the Syrians heard). Wouldn't exactly be my list of things to meet the need, but it was God's. He made the Syrians hear an army that wasn't there. Samaria didn't hear it, but the Syrians did, and they were convinced that the sound itself was such an immanent danger that they needed to flee. It was so terrifying that they cast off the valuables they had grabbed to take with them. They didn't even take their horses, they just ran. He used lepers that no one paid any attention to as part of his solution. Their desperation caused them to go into the camp no matter what the results were. And the king who was so far in disbelief that he knew an empty camp full of food and provision was a trick of their enemy. Add to that the lord, one of the king's trusted advisers, who didn't think God could provide food even if God made windows in heaven. Windows in heaven would be a great trick, but God doesn't need tricks. He always has many avenues available to fulfill His Word to us.

They took therefore two chariot horses; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see. And they went after them unto Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. And the messengers returned, and told the king. And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord
- II Kings 7:14-16

I don't know what you are facing today. You may feel desperate. You may feel hopeless. Just be encouraged through the story of the Syrians, Elisha, some distraught mothers and some lepers that even when things look hopelessly without remedy, God is able. When we can't see it. When we are struggling to believe it. God can.