Monday, April 2, 2012

Hope... and why I have it

Hope.  It keeps us from falling apart when things go bad.  It's what makes life's bad days a little more bearable.  It's what makes death a little less painful. This month in children's church, I am teaching about hope.  In the context of our lessons, we define hope as believing that something good can come out of something bad.  Yesterday, as I taught a group of 30 kids about the Last Supper and Jesus' arrest, I talked about the promises that Jesus made to his disciples. The promise that even though He was leaving, He would come back.  The promise of life after death. And as I taught through his death and burial, I felt the grief of it all.  The confusion of his disciples.  This was not the way this was supposed to go. I almost always cry (or come close to it) when I teach about this.  Because it's an overwhelming thought, Jesus laying down His life for people who could never appreciate it enough. And yet, he told Peter to put down his sword. He identified himself to the Roman soldiers. He did not defend himself before rulers. They did not take His life... He gave it. And when He did, to His followers, it seemed like all hope was lost.

I did not tell the kids the rest of the story. Of course, most of them know it already, but I still like to leave them with the reality of his death for the week before we celebrate the glory of his resurrection.  And let me tell you, I am thrilled about the fact that He raised Himself from the grave.  It's proof that He keeps his promises, and that He did indeed possess the fulness of God. It's proof that the God I serve is alive, unlike any other one that claimed to be God before Him or after Him.  But one of my favorite parts of this story is what it means for us, believers living today.  Thousand of years have passed since the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but it still so significantly affects how we see life.  And death.  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 defines how we should view death.  There is no finality in death for the believer, thanks to the resurrection of Christ.  There are no actual last words. No permanence in sleep. There is only hope.

As I write this, my 90-year-old Mama (my dad's mother) is lying in a bed in Houston, and she is dying.  She can no longer eat or drink, and she is not responsive.  For the past few days, her health has deteriorated to the point where we all know what comes next for her.  It's just a matter of time, and her earthly life will be done.  But in the back of my mind I hear the words we sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. And those words change things.  They do not change the fact that we are sad.  Death is a sad thing.  But these words mean that the sadness does not come unaccompanied.  Along with the grief comes an indescribable hope.  A confidence that death is not the end.  An assurance that though relationship is severed for a time, this goodbye is not forever.

This is Holy Week, the week that the Christian world takes a long, hard look at death.  We think about it, sing about it, and talk about it... not because we are morbid, but because we know what comes next. We know that death did not win.  We know that there is life that follows.  We know that there is hope.  And I think it's interesting, the timing of this family situation.  My Mama is not gone from us yet, but she is on the verge, and right here at the time of year where are reminded what comes next.  My mother told me this morning that Mama keeps reaching her arm upward.  And I cannot prove it, but I believe that she sees it.  I believe that she knows that although death is right around the corner, hope is there, too.  And healing. And she will step out of her worn, frail body into new life in the presence of God.

And when her time comes, we will all be grieving.  It will take time for us to get used to life without her. We will miss her stories and her laugh and her eclectic Sunday meals, but there are always things to hold onto.  We have photographs and stories that I have written down over the years as she has told them to me.  We have memories of making biscuits, playing dominoes at her kitchen table, and playing in her backyard.  These are the things we have.  These are what we are left with.  These things and hope.

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