Death has been a frequent topic in these blogs. This is not just the raving a man who is getting old. When I was 13 years old, my best friend in junior high school was struck by a car while riding his bicycle and died at the scene. It made the evening news which was where I learned of the event. It was difficult for my underdeveloped brain to absorb, but I had been raised in Christian teaching, learned to read and count from the Bible, so the only question in my mind was, Did Jonathan know where he was going when he died?
I had no social skills and little training in matters of custom, so I did not call his family or attend the funeral. But what weighed on my mind was that I had never talked with Jonny about his soul, Heaven or hell, things that mattered. All our times together had been spent comparing sci-fi stories, riding bicycles (on the street where he died), talking about watching The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone on television; and for comic relief we would laugh at jokes from McHale’s Navy or My Favorite Martian.
Death suddenly was not something that happened to old people or names in the Bible. It happened to my teenage friend. This left an imprint on me that is with me to this day, now 53 year later. And so it has been a theme in my life, even when I walked away from God and His care for a season. I was keenly aware of my and everyone else’s mortality.
Fast forward five years to my senior year at Washington High School. Homecoming is a big event in high schools and colleges. It is the “swan song” for seniors who are about to graduate. A king and queen are usually crowned by popular vote of the masses of students (whether there are 20 or 2000 in your graduating class, it’s a really big deal!) There is usually a dance, maybe a local parade, a football game (or hockey or basketball, depending on your school’s forte). While usually named in the middle of the fall semester to encourage everyone who has ever been connected to the school to “come home,” the focus of homecoming in 1968 was on those graduating and leaving the school the next spring.
One of the few games this geeky nerd ever attended was that senior year homecoming game. With several friends from my church who attended the school, we ran around the bleachers, tried to squeeze into the press box, climbed on top of it when the “guard” would not let us in, scrambled down behind it to run from his “officialdom” and ate cheap hot dogs and ogled the cheerleaders (at least I did). I saw the big grin on the homecoming king’s face as he escorted the beautiful girl who had been elected queen for a day. They sat on a flatbed truck if I recall correctly, adorned with streamers and balloons in the Wildcats’ bright red and white.
For the Christ-follower, there is a much fuller and significant Homecoming approaching! We are not home, yet. There is coming a day soon that we will enter a realm like nothing we have imagined here on earth! When the prophets of the Bible saw the Heavens in their visions, they saw things that had no comparable value or image on earth.
Imagine trying to explain the Grand Canyon to a man born blind. Imagine using sign language to express Beethoven’s Fifth to a deaf person. The equipment needed to fully appreciate these sights and sounds is simply not there. Now imagine one of Jesus’ closest friends, John, seeing his Friend in real glory as He really is; seeing streets that are unimaginable where we pave with concrete; seeing LIFE in all caps coming from trees that sing of His amazing glory; creatures that somehow transcend the definitions of animal or angel! Now imagine him trying to tell us what it will be like: the equipment we need to fully appreciate these sights and sounds is simply not here!
This week a dear friend and musician of note left this world at 58 years old, the same age as another woman in our Neighborhood did January 20 (see February 4, 2018). Today my wife and I attended her memorial service and what a service it was! Many from Eastland Church of God, her home church, were in attendance, and the life was almost palpable! She is now living what John, the Beloved, saw! And death is suddenly not fearsome or even distressing! “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55) Yes, tears were shed, mostly by the husband and daughter she leaves behind, and mostly back when Karen was moved into hospice a week ago, but even their sorrow was clearly tempered by the anticipation of the resurrection!
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-53)
Pastor Rod Martin challenged the attendees with Scripture verses from Romans, the Gospels, and especially Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” We must shed some tears for Him to wipe away; there will be mourning and crying with the pain of these present days . . . but these days are numbered (Psalm 39:4-5). Soon, maybe very soon, these former things will pass away!
Be prepared. Do not wait. No one knows when Jesus will return nor when and if He will call you Home before that Day. But, oh what a Homecoming that will be, to see Jesus face-to-face, to reunite with loved ones who believed, to live forever with Him. Homecoming: changed in the twinkling of an eye!