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Sunday, July 08, 2007
DEATH, RESURRECTION & OH DEAR GOD PLEASE HELP ME
For an adult, understanding death can be a difficult subject to comprehend. Death is a mystery. After all we don't travel between life and the great hereafter on a regular basis. To complicate matters--what we read in the Bible may be more frightful than a hair-raising novel, especially when you are of tender age.
By tender age I am not referring to an six-year-old with an over-taxed imagination, but a 12 year old with a heart that desired to know and understand God, especially why in the world He allowed death to become so confusing.
Funerals were always number one on my list of mind messers. To understand you must walk back to an age when what you heard oft' times did not correspond to what was being spoken.
The pain of death became reality one chilly autumn morning when my parents received a call stating Grandpa Johanson died in his sleep. Although both grandparents on my mother's side passed on, it didn't rip into the very inner being of my heart like Grandpa Nels death. He taught me how to catch a fish with a cane pole while his stories of the "old country" kept me riveted to his side for hours
My parents had the car packed long before supper and off to Iowa we drove, not with the great excitement of summer vacation. This was a solemn journey back home. Soon after arriving we were ushered into funeral home, heavy with the scent of flowers, along with a blend of other unusual and unidentifiable odors.
The organist played a long itinerary of solemn and depressing songs as if we needed to have our sad hearts primed for even more pain. I gazed upon the bronze colored casket where Grandpa lay. Behind me the sounds of women softly weeping could be heard along with men clearing their throats as they attempted to ease their uncomfortable feelings.
After a melody of Rock of Ages and Nearer My God To Thee, Pastor Erickson stepped to the pulpit, and there sat myself, so much in need of answers--but the next thirty-five minutes brought bombardments of fear and horrid visions as the word of God turned on me. I could hardly catch my breath.
The pastor started out by reading The 23rd Psalm. "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.." There it was, that horrible verse! "I shall not want the Lord, my shepherd." Over and over the verse reverberated in my mind, "I shall not want." As it struck home a loud gasp came from my mouth, which was returned by a jab in the side from my brother.
"Didn't you hear what that man just said?" I asked. A shhh! from dad resulted in another jab in the side.
Reality unraveled from that point on as I sunk further into fear. The 23rd Psalm went on to say, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." Now I ask you, have you ever tried to make a 12 year-old do anything? Besides, we didn't want a shepherd any more so why lay around in some pasture when we had to find our own way to heaven?
No wonder everyone looked so somber and ashen around me. So here we are, passed away from one life to what the Bible claimed was another. "From dust we came and to dust we go," started making sense. Obviously we were destined to get dusted in the great by and by.
In reality the 23rd Psalm did contain a few particles of comfort, but what about this Valley of the Shadow and Death? Oh my, dying just can not be any blessing whatsoever. Besides you didn't dare get hungry because you table was prepared right in front of your enemies.
Pastor Erickson finished the Psalm with a grisly illustration of my head being dipped in oil and the way things sounded when you ran to get a drink of water, the spigot wouldn't shut off and the cup ran over. Who, pray tell, would wallop me for that one.
The pastor closed his Bible, proceeded to tell the story of my grandparent's journey to the new country, his years owning a Standard Oil station and his successful farming ventures. Then he asked us to repeat with him the Apostle's Creed.
Things went fine until we got to the part about judging the quick from the dead. So tell me, just how fast must you run to keep ahead of death. I looked over my shoulder, knowing for certain death was stalking me, only to see cousin sticking his tongue out. Now, this was a good time for the quick to judge him.
I was not sure whether I wanted to release Grandpa to Jesus. He was better off down here working the farm. And what did I have to look forward to? After all, angelic behavior did not become me. So many promises in the Bible, so many great illustrations, why did this pastor blow the whole illusion?
Obviously many changes occurred in my theology as I have grown older. A little semicolon in the first verse readjusted my thinking. "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." The green pastures and still waters are now a welcome oasis in a busy confused world. Death is no longer an enemy, but a reward for weary earth bound pilgrims.
I learned the oil is the spirit of my Lord being poured on weary bodies to soften the callous places where this dry and dusty world have worked us over. The table prepared before my enemies? How glorious to fellowship with the Great Master while your enemies look on and find themselves powerless to break that tender moment when you sup with the Lord Jesus.
Most of I all I realized, yes, I did miss Grandpa. He was a giant of as man. His hands were big enough to pick me up and toss me into the hay or grab a plow and hitch it to a tractor. But his hands were only human and soon became old and frail, as will ours someday.
Yet there is one whose hands are truly big enough to pick me up when I fall and gentle enough to protect as a father should. His heart, so big, it burst on the cross 2,000 years ago. Not the cross of death, but the cross of eternal life of which we all can share. That's pretty big.
That is the "Lord who is my shepherd: and because of Him I shall not want."