Monday, November 28, 2011

The Season of Advent, Week 1: Hope - "But For This Time We Have Jesus"

There is one image in that sad, sad afternoon which haunts me: They had both been so brave individually for the entire service. They had sung the songs; they had comforted their remaining children; he had given the eulogy himself. But during the last song, he stood up, indicated for his daughter to move over, and sat down beside his wife. In unison they reached for each other, cradling the other's head in their arms, cheek to cheek, clinging together, pressing closer than words, obliterating thought for one brief agonized moment.

The songs that are playing on RtL during Advent this year are ones my nephew's friend Josh had on his iPod and ones that were played and sung at his funeral.

At the beginning of the service Ian Trigg, the lead pastor at Foothills Alliance Church, gathered us all together with words along these lines:

We are here today to support a wonderful family

We are also here today to look at life and wonder
at family and hope
We will examine pain and sadness
loss and confusion
We will listen to His promptings
We will evaluate our lives

On the front of the stage was lovingly grouped a collection of Josh's treasures: books and games, his Kobo reader and iPod, a wooden castle complete with turrets and a draw bridge and sentinels en garde, his Scouts uniform and blanket with so many badges. There stood his ski equipment and his bike, packed tenderly for this day by his Dad and ready to go on one more trip. A picture of Josh and his siblings peeked out from one corner and flowers dotted the tableau.

And in the centre of it all was Josh's well-used, well-loved Bible.

"There are many questions that will never be answered," Ian cautioned us all. "We have all asked the question Why? 

"But in our looking for hope, I would suggest we answer the question Who?"

I looked at the items hanging against the backdrop of the stage, words etched on simple squares: 





And these: not a fan and Luke 9:23

And this drawing: three crosses sketched starkly on the right hand side of the square with what looks like the silhouettes of three people to the left of the square, their arms reaching toward the centre cross.

James Wheeler, another pastor, read from Isaiah chapter 57 and verse 1, the same text that Dad read at Mum's funeral:

The righteous man perishes,
and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
while no one understands.

James commented that his child, who is a friend of Josh, said to him, "I don't get it ... If this kind of thing can happen to Josh, what makes our Christianity so special?"

What indeed ...

James's answer came in the form of a two-part question: "Does God know what it's like to lose a son?" and "Was Jesus' death on the cross the end - did Jesus stay in the grave?" He said that he was given the opportunity to discuss these two questions and the significance of their answers with his boy; and then at the end of their dialogue he asked his beloved son, "Is this the end of Josh's story? No way. No way."

After all the songs were sung, after the beautiful eulogy was given from a heart severed beyond relief, Ian again got up to speak.

No one saw this coming, he told us. As wonderful as we believe Heaven to be, Josh made a tragic decision ... he carried a burden that he didn't know how to talk about.

We can't explain life; we can't explain death; we can't explain tragedy, he went on. Death always seems unnatural - we are MADE for eternity. 

But despite the joy that we had heard about in Josh's life, pain was just under the surface. A sobering statistic: 15 - 40% of Canadian teenagers are suicidal at any given point.

Ian urged us all to take a look into our own hearts and ask ourselves, How well are we?

We have three choices, he suggested.
  1. Despair - we abandon hope. Despair narrows our capacity to think clearly. If you are in despair today, Ian urged, ask for help. Don't let despair win the day. We all lose when it does.
  2. Denial - strong, tough, brave, cynical. Hard on the outside to cover pain on the inside, we become numb. But the pain is still there. We have become experts at denial in our culture, as we ignore the quiet voice saying, What's your life all about? What about God? What about faith?
  3. Decision to make room for God - to choose this option is to choose to build an inner world. And this is the answer to Who?
Christianity is not a faith for people who have it all together, Ian reminded us. It is a faith for him, for Josh, for us. God loved this world so much that He gave His son, Jesus, who died for our ignorance, our arrogance, our despair. 

There is NO sin that He cannot forgive. He doesn't care about our church attendance or our giving. He just cares about us.

Josh made a terrible mistake, Ian mourned. But Jesus died for our screw-ups and our mistakes. The Jesus whom Josh knew and loved said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."

Josh's life and death has changed us all, Ian observed. We've lost our innocence; we see life is not as simple as we might think.

But it's not as complicated as we might think, either, he encouraged us. Let's embrace the truth. Let's have the important conversations.

Let's embrace life.

"But for this time, we have Jesus."

The service closed with this song by Robin Mark:

When it's all been said and done

There is just one thing that matters

Did I do my best to live for truth?

Did I live my life for you?

When it's all been said and done

All my treasures will mean nothing

Only what I have done

For love's rewards

Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great

That you look beyond our weakness

That you found purest gold in miry clay

Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise

Here on earth and in heaven after

For you've joined me at my true home

When it's all been said and done

You're my life when life is gone.

The other image of the afternoon that left a lasting imprint on my heart and mind and soul is the reason I chose to usher in this first week in Advent, the week in which we remember hope, by writing of the funeral that should not have been. So strong was my visceral reaction to this scene that I made a clumsy sketch of the image I saw in the tiny notebook I carry in my purse.

That image is this: on the screen at the front of the sanctuary was projected a picture of a smiling Josh in the foreground, just off to the left. Behind him, curving through the mountains and literally up into the clouds to the right of Josh at the top of the picture, is a path.

And halfway up that picture, halfway between Josh and the clouds of Heaven, the mountain slopes are cut away and rise up on either side of the path. These slopes are white, in contrast to all the green and brown surrounding them, and they look like the outstretched arms of someone wearing a cloak of protection.

The fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, talks about these arms. In chapter 33 and verse 27, we read, "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

The Everlasting Arms is the who Ian asked us to look toward. Those everlasting arms were with Josh on the day that picture was taken; and they were just as surely with him on the last day of his life, underneath him the entire time he fled up the path to his refuge, the eternal God.

And into this season of despair for one family who have had to give up their son speaks the words of hope from the prophet Isaiah of a Father who also gave up His son:

For unto us a child is born
Unto us a son is given
and the government shall be upon his shoulders
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace

"But For This Time We Have Jesus." 

We have Hope.

1 comment:

  1. oh karyn. *yes*.

    "but for this time we have Jesus".

    i love you and your incredibly beautiful heart. i needed to remember this as the Christmas season is upon us.

    i needed to remember "hope".


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