Sunday, March 20, 2011

Life and Death

This has been a particularly tough week.

Like people around the world, I’ve been grieving for the destruction and loss from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Our family has relatives who are stationed in Okinawa. My sister thoughtfully sent a note immediately after the earthquake and tsunami to let us know they were ok. My kids have been praying in thanksgiving for the safety of their cousins, aunt and uncle. But we’ve also been praying for God’s provision for those who were impacted by the earthquake and tsunami. It is hard to comprehend the scope of the devastation.

And the grief for the destruction and loss from the earthquake and tsunami has now been overtaken somewhat by a pressing fear of potential nuclear catastrophe at the crippled nuclear plant. I worry about a catastrophe impacting the whole region. I worry that it will impact my sister’s family in Okinawa. Heck, even in Arizona some folks have been stocking up on potassium iodide, which apparently can provide the body with some protection against radiation.

Closer to home, I’ve also had several pieces of heartbreaking news this week. A dear friend of our family has been diagnosed with a particularly vile form of cancer. A beloved relative of ours has been in and out of the hospital a lot in the last few weeks; we just got word today that he is back in the hospital. A relative caring for him has now begun to face her own health issues in part due to the stress of being a caregiver. I also learned that a wonderful friend, who has been in a seemingly happy and stable marriage for several decades, is currently going through a divorce and custody battle. And then I learned of the sudden, unexpected death of a lovely young man I knew. I actually was in a situation where I had to break the news to a group of his friends, which was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. The young man had a wife and child, and I’ve been torn up by their loss.

Just before this tough week was the beginning of the season of Lent, which is the forty day period leading up to Easter. Easter is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection, his triumph over the grave. It is the high-point in the Christian year. It celebrates the most pivotal event in the earthly life of Jesus. Indeed, Easter is the reason we call him the Christ. Because of the supreme importance of Easter, many Christian denominations prepare for the celebration by observing forty days of sacrifice and prayer.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Like many Christ followers, our family went to church on Ash Wednesday and our pastor smudged our foreheads with dark ashes. When she did that she reminded us that we came from ashes and will return to ashes. It is a reminder of the finite nature of our time on this planet. It is not meant to be depressing. The reminder is supposed to give us a reality check that although we get caught up in the crises of what is going on on Earth, all of that is only a blip on the radar of time. It pales in comparison to the eternal nature of God’s Kingdom.

That reality check has come at a good time for me personally. It doesn’t take away the worry and the pain due to the recent tragedies I’ve mentioned. But it helps put things into perspective. It helps me to remember that although these tragedies seem overwhelming right here and right now, the pain and suffering will not last. As a Christ follower, I am comforted that Jesus has overcome the grave, death has no lasting sting. Death is only a temporary separation.

Many years ago, I heard a pastor give a sermon with the refrain that he could live and face today because of the knowledge that Jesus had died. To a non-Christian that may sound weird, even nonsensical, but it was the same point I have just described. The pastor’s point was that if Jesus had not truly died (and then risen from the grave), then the problems of this world would be too overwhelming to even get out of bed. But the hope and faith we have as Christians (i.e., that this life is not all there is) helps us face and even triumph when painful events occur.

This week I attended a service for the young man who died. I was very proud of his friends and colleagues who worked so hard to put together the service very quickly. They did a great job. It broke my heart to see all the tears, to hear people get so choked up when sharing their memories. Just before I left the service, I ran into a young woman I had not seen in many months. She was very pregnant with her first child. She is due in a matter of weeks and very excited. It was a real blessing to run into her in that context and learn of her impending motherhood. How wonderful at a time like this to know that she is bringing new life into this world to love and nurture. God does heal our wounded hearts.

2 Kings 20:4-6 (The Message)

Isaiah, leaving, was not halfway across the courtyard when the word of GOD stopped him: "Go back and tell Hezekiah, prince of my people, 'GOD's word, Hezekiah! From the God of your ancestor David: I've listened to your prayer and I've observed your tears. I'm going to heal you. In three days you will walk on your own legs into The Temple of GOD. I've just added fifteen years to your life; I'm saving you from the king of Assyria, and I'm covering this city with my shield—for my sake and my servant David's sake.'"

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