Easter 2016

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Goodbye to goodbyes

This is what Easter is for me: The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that I have the sure and certain hope that one day I will live without another goodbye.

I am just plain sick of life’s many and varied goodbyes. I hate them deeply and bitterly.

My life has been filled with the same goodbyes that you have experienced:
• When my kids left home, it took years to adjust;
• departing jobs, schools, and churches created a variety of losses;
• beloved homes left—far too many of those;
• please, think me not trivial mentioning favored autos, comfortable clothes, properly broken-in easy chairs, and the like, which hurt to give up;
• the death of a marriage through divorce;
• the death of loved ones.

Of the goodbye of death, my life is unique to most. As the son of my father, I was inches from his face when that last sip of air escaped his mouth. As a father, I buried my son. As a pastor, I was privileged to sit with members as their loved ones took their final breaths. As the officiant at 150 funerals, I saw it all.

I recount the following because we should never become accustomed to death, but remember that it is our temporal and eternal enemy.
• A couple of years into the ministry, I marveled at the sorrowful mourning of a nearly-eighty-year-old woman at the death of her mother. That’s when I learned this: No matter how old one’s mom or dad is, this is one’s mom or dad. It always hurts.
• Only three months after I arrived in Port Hope, one of our seven-year-old girls was hit by a car as the girl was riding her bike near our church. To witness up close this type of loss—in her parents and classmates and the entire village—was both sobering and educating.
• That death portended too many tragic deaths in Port Hope: Parents burying children, car accident deaths, two deaths with suspicious circumstances, and the final terrible death by murder.
• Of the 150, the visual that remains vivid for me is from this death: As I was walking a mom and dad into the funeral home to be the first to see their child, Mom ran to her child, “My baby! My baby!” while Dad crumpled onto the floor and into a heap at my feet, sobbing.

And, yes, my life is unique in that I’ve had to say goodbye to myself. I am suffering the very real death of Greg. I mourn many losses of his life. The peace I now enjoy as Gina eases the pain that I feel so often, but it is far from the greatest peace I enjoy, and the specific hope I have that one day I will be a whole person and will never again have to say goodbye.

I said that death is our temporal and eternal enemy. That would remain true, if not for Jesus Christ. If not for Christmas. If not for Good Friday. If not for Easter. If not for His ascending to heaven. If not for His promise to return to give us the same resurrection that He experienced.

At 150 funerals, I read a variety of Scriptures, but I read this Old Testament lesson 150 times, from Job 19: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me (Job 19:25-27)!”

The Gospel lesson I read most was this, which concluded with the Lord Jesus saying, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40).”

Several years ago, the following became my motto:

Find one other person who has conquered death, never to die again, and go ahead and put your faith in that one. You won’t find him. Only Jesus Christ beat death with His eternal resurrection. And that means that only Jesus Christ has the cure for death. Only Jesus Christ can offer the gift of our being resurrected from our graves to live eternally in joy and peace.

Death completely screws up a party. Jesus Christ is the Life of the party.

He said He would be crucified. He said He would be resurrected. He was and He was. So, when He says that everyone who looks to Him and believes will be raised by Him on the last day, He is more than believable.

He is to be believed.

Often, as I repeated Job’s words during the sermon, and as I read from 1 Corinthians 15 and the four marks of the resurrection body—immortality, power, glory, and its spiritual nature—I would pound my chest. I would grab my arm. I would smack my face. “Our resurrected bodies will be just as real as this!”

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote about being torn between earth and heaven. He said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23.”

150 funerals made death gravely real to me. With each sermon, my taste for my own resurrection grew more intense. I can’t wait, yet, as Paul said, for now it is more necessary to remain in the body.

That’s why I’m here. As your fellow human being, I am here to testify about life and death. I am here to proclaim Jesus Christ. I am here to demonstrate that even the likes of me—the completely fallen and fractured human being that I am, who cannot even abide in the sex of my birth—holds fast to The Only One who is able to offer me sure and certain hope for a life of eternal paradise, when there will never again be uttered a mournful goodbye.

When I will be whole.

This is what Easter is for me. I want nothing more in life than for this to be what Easter is for you.
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