Strange isn’t it, the grasp that death holds over us?
In his book, “Six Hours One Friday”, Max Lucado refers to the Vietnam Memorial, as the wailing wall of our generation. “Black marble tablets carved with names that read like the roster of a high school football team more than a list of dead soldiers – Walter Faith, Richard Sala, Michael Andrews, Roy Burris, Emmet Stanton. Each name a young life. Behind each name was a bereaved widow…an anguished mother…a fatherless child.”
“I looked down at my feet. There lay a dozen roses, soggy and frosty from the weather. It was the day after Valentine’s Day. A girlfriend or wife had come to say, ‘I still remember. I haven’t forgotten.’
‘Next to me stood a trio. By the emotion on their faces, it was obvious they hadn’t come out of curiosity. They had come out of grief. The one in the center caught my attention. He wore a green arm coat. He was big. He was black. He was bearded. Angry tears streamed down his face. Twenty years of emotion still trying to find an exit.”
“A couple walked behind me. They were looking for a name. In their hands was a program that old them on what tablet to look. ‘Did you find it?’ I heard the woman ask. ‘Every name has a number.’ True I thought, Every name does have a number and sooner or later every number is called”.
Max wrote that in the brief moment he had to visit the wall, at some point he stopped looking at the names and stared at the monument. He relaxed his focus from the lettering and looked at the tablet. What he saw was sobering. He saw himself. He saw his own reflection. It served for him as a subtle reminder that he too had been dying as long as he had been living. One day, his own name would be etched in marble stone.
He writes, “We do everything we can to ignore that reality. We diet, we go to the gym, we play golf. We try to escape it, knowing all along that we will only, at best, postpone it. Someday there will be a funeral bulletin with my name printed on it, just as there will some day be one with your name on it. So the darkness where Easter begins is the darkness where we live and that darkness is knowing that someday we too shall die for that thought is never too far away”.
It was the week before Easter in April 2004; the Moving Wall was on display in Johnson City. On Friday evening, the General (aka – my wife) and I went over to view the display. Even in a small community like Johnson City, you don’t have to look to far to find folks who still carry grief and heartache associated with the death of loved ones. Scattered across the display setting were a number of folks who were unmoving. They seemed lost in thoughtful contemplation. You could tell from their focus on a particular section of the wall that they were not folks who came simply to look, but individuals who came to remember. They were not there out of curiosity, but out of grief.
There was one man, who from appearances, I would have guessed was a stranger to tears. He looked like an old cowboy who’d been rode hard and put up wet, but he was crying openly as his wife attempted to provide some kind of support and comfort.
One of my favorite stories shared in an Easter message is a personal story shared by R.G. Lee. He concluded an Easter sermon with these words, “One day as a young child, I asked my mother, ‘What was the happiest day of your life?’ I thought she might say something about the day one of her children was born, or the day my father asked her to marry him, or her wedding day. For a long moment she sat there looking across the room as if she could see for a long distance.
She said, ‘It was during the war between the North and South. The men were away. My mother, your grandmother, had to do the work of a man in the fields. She eked out a living for us from the farm. One day a letter came saying that my father, your grandfather Bennett, had been killed. The letter contained a great many kind words about his bravery and sacrifice. Mother did not cry much that day, but at night we could hear her sob in the dark of our small house’.
‘About four months later, it was summer. We were all setting on the porch shelling beans. A man came down the road and mother watched him for a long while and then said, ‘Elizabeth -honey, Don’t think me strange, but the man coming yonder walks like your father’. The man kept coming along the road, but we children thought it couldn’t be him. As he came to the break in the fence where the path ran, he turned in. Mother sprang from her chair scattering beans everywhere. She began to run and she yelled over her shoulder, ‘Children it’s your father’. She ran all the way across the field until they met. She kissed him and cried and held him for the longest. And that, Robert Lee, was the happiest hour I’ve ever known.’
Then R.G. Lee concluded, “And that is but a small joy compared with the resurrection morning when we shall see the face of Jesus; when we shall see loved ones long gone. That’s how it was the first Easter when the One who died came back to life. That’s how it will be on your Easter when you see again the ones you love because of the One who loves you. That’s how it can be for you this Easter”.
Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, said, “People come to church with one question in the back of their minds, “Is it true?” On Easter Sunday, I suspect the question is even more specific, “Is it true about the Resurrection?” Fortunately, the answer has been provided. Perhaps, Jesus said it best. “Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s hose are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there you may be also”.
All My Best!