Sunday, July 27, 2008

The death of a loved one brings pain; the death of the One who loved, brings New and Eternal Life

The unexpected and untimely death of a loved one brings profound and permanent change to one's life. Suddenly the cell phone is not so important anymore. Suddenly there is no need to check on one's e-mail everyday, nor to update one's self on what is happening back home with the murder rate and the politics. Suddenly the US elections or the news about the Lambeth conference in the UK is no longer a " hot item".
Suddenly one has to leave children and a grandson and head back home. Suddenly Air Jamaica seems a better choice than American Airlines. Suddenly there is no longer a mother and mother-in-law to call home on arriving at the airport. Suddenly there is no need to go and fix a cup of tea in mornings or to help with the dressing to go to church on a Sunday morning. No one who, without fail, will wish you good night, before retiring to her bed. No voice heard reading the bible aloud or saying her prayers night and day. No one to remind to you pick up the lunch box, or to wish you a safe journey. No one to go with you to the gas station , just because she wants a " drive out". No one to call you in the evening and ask, " how soon are you coming home"? No more winsome smiles. No more asking about the great grandson, the grandchildren and the children. No longer will the gardener and the the lady who comes to wash, receive precise instructions and constant reminders about their jobs. No more sharing of the love which she had for all - even for stray animals - and especially for her family. No more pain, no more burning. At 85, the Lord whom she served and trusted called her home. It was time to go.

So this morning the Lord woke me up with words of hope in my heart. Words which I shared with my wife and so we sang it intermittently all morning.

When I am down and oh my soul is weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait her in the silence,
Until you come and sit a while with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up; To be more than I can be.

On the other hand, the death of God's only Son, ushered in a profound and permanent change in the life of every human being. This is what the Lord taught/reminded/revealed to me this week before , " grandma", died. And the regular and frequent celebration of this death - Holy Eucharist or Communion or Lord's supper, is of vital importance in the life of every believer. As it is by this death that, no more, shall sin and death reign in the life of all mankind. No more shall sin hold sway over anyone who believes that Jesus died for them. No more shall we be subject to condemnation on account of being " born and shaped in iniquity". Suddenly, on the Cross, we were rescued. Suddenly, through the Redemptive Act on the Cross of Calvary, we have access into the very presence of God. Suddenly, through the Atonement, the life changing power of the Holy Spirit is available to all. Suddenly and dramatically, God revealed Himself and demonstrated His love to all mankind. Suddenly God raised Jesus from the dead and set in place a " New Creation". Suddenly God's Holy Spirit was poured out on His disciples and has been poured out on all who truly believe ever since. At age 33, God sent His only Son to die,
so that all mankind could have ( everlasting) life. It was time for Him to die, so that others could live - forever.

This is why the following words from the Holy Scriptures are so vital in the spiritual journey and life of every Christian, and indeed for all who are searching for greater meaning in life.

Then they asked him, " What must we do to do the works that God requires?
Jesus answered, " The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."............" For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
At this the Jews began to grumble about him........
" Stop grumbling amongst yourselves, Jesus answered. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets:
' They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me.........
Jesus said to them, " I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood ( Which is what The Holy Eucharist or Communion or Lord's Supper is all about), you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

On hearing it many of his disciples ( and many modern day believers, skeptics and cynics,
shy away from Christianity on account of hard teachings like this) said, " This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"
....Jesus said......" the Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe".
For Jesus had known from the beginning ( as He knows now) which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, " This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.
From this time many of the disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
" You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, " Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life".
John 6:28-68 NIV

This is the faith grandma had, and why we are convinced that she is with the Lord in Eternal Life. This is why the final words of that great hymn, " And can it be...", that we sang in church this morning was so comforting.

.....Bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown , through Christ , my own.

This is the faith that the Apostles taught the early church, and from which faith, those who
pay little attention to, and infrequently share, in the Holy Eucharist, do so at their own peril, and that of their witness here on earth.
These words, which are spirit and life, should be shared with every unbeliever, or those who have any doubts about the vital importance of believing that Christ is the alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all life. Let us read them again:

"The work of God is this: To believe in the one he has sent."
" Everyone who listens to the Father learns from him and comes to me".
" No one can come to me unless the one who sent me draws him"
" That's why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him".

The great challenge for the church is to believe, once again, as was taught by the Apostles, in the life changing power of The Holy Eucharist/Communion/Lord's Supper. And then, being so empowered, to share the gospel with all others. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, New Age, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Atheists. All who do not have the faith of St Peter.

" Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls"
1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV

The early church fathers were not reluctant in sharing their faith with their fellow Jews
- so why should we shrink back and be intimidated or satisfied because they are " people of faith". But faith in what!

" On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying." Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ' We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

" I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth'.

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed"
Acts 13:44-48 NIV

So as we mourn the death of a loved one, so we gain strength from the One who died
to give us New Life. Equally so, as we mourn the death of many innocent ones in our country;
mourn the death of innocence in our young people; feel the pain of Black America which is being ravaged by HIV, violence and discrimination ( if you have not yet seen the documentary Black in America, watch out for the repeats); we find hope in the Resurrection of our Lord.
A sure sign that all is not lost, and that New Life, only in and through Jesus Christ, can once again reign in our country, reign in Black America, and the entire world. Whether in Muslim countries, increasingly secular Europe, decadent America, and chaotic Zimbabwe. This was grandma's faith. This is our faith.
The question of the ages then remains, , if not Christ, to whom shall you turn? For who else has the words of Eternal Life? Amen.

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