by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
It’s time for my seventeenth annual column about the balloons that decorate the interior of our church on Easter Sunday morning. While we were inflating and preparing balloons, I thought of how each of us had a place in the process, a job as part of the whole. One person—either Jan or Jerry—inflated the balloons, another person—Susan—tied the end of the balloons, and the rest of us tied ribbons to the balloons. Occasionally, those of us who were fairly tall, such as Dennis and myself, retrieved balloons that had gotten away and lodged against the ceiling. When the balloons had been inflated and it was time to decorate the church with them, again each of us had a job to do. Some held balloons for the rest, others took them where they were needed, and still others taped the balloons to the pews, pulpit, lectern, etc. The early church—like the church of today—worked the same way. Paul wrote to the early Christians about unity, about being part of the same “body” (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31).
As Pastor Kim began preaching, I thought about how the same thing applies to life. Kim talked about the all-too-brief life of our own Tim Brooks, who died three weeks before Easter after losing a long battle with cancer. Tim was still in his twenties when he died and in some respects it doesn’t seem “fair.”
However, there is another life that some would say ended far too soon, a life that ended at the age of thirty three. Of course, I’m talking about the life of Christ. This Lent, most of us at Maplewood United Methodist have participated in small groups studying the book 24 Hours that Changed the World, by Adam Hamilton. It describes the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life on Earth, his last hours with the disciples, his trial, torture, and crucifixion.
When Jesus had been crucified, “. . . those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’” (Matt. 27:39-40 ESV). They didn’t understand that everything that happened was part of a plan. If Jesus had “saved himself,” there would be no salvation for us. It was in completing the task set before him that he proved that he was “the Son of God”.
There is a great deal we don’t understand. Paul frequently used the word “mystery” in his letters. One of the most profound examples is from 1 Corinthians 15: “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.” (1 Cor. 15:51-52 ESV).
We don’t know why Tim was taken from his family and friends but we have to believe that whatever his work on Earth was, it was done. We don’t understand it, it’s another “mystery” that will wait until we have our own turn. We have assurance that the end of our life on Earth is not the end for us (John 14:1-4). Jesus’ work was not finished with the cross; as important, as central as the cross is, it is not the end of the story. Beyond the cross, there is an empty tomb (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-7; John 20:1-10). To fixate on the cross alone is to stop reading before the last chapter. Because of the resurrection, we have our own hope for eternal life.
After church, when we had released the balloons and they had receded to where we could no longer see them, they weren’t gone—merely out of sight. We know from past experience that they sometimes travel hundreds of miles. The relatively brief time they spend over the town of Maplewood, MO is but the beginning of their journey. This is the hope we have in Christ and the resurrection: The part of life we can perceive is merely the beginning; God has much more in store for us. And that’s a hope that is worth sharing.
“God sent His son, they called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal, and forgive.
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.”
(“Because He Lives,” vs. 1, Gloria and William J. Gaither)
Copyright © 2011 by David Phelps