“What did it look like when Gramma went up to heaven?”
“Well, she looked like she was sleeping peacefully.”
“NO, I mean what did SHE look like when she was going up?”
Sunday School teachers, never doubt the impact you have on young children. My son Toby is only 4, but he believes with unshakable faith that Jesus Christ went up to heaven through the clouds after having risen from the dead. The paper cup craft of Jesus flying up into the blue seemed to bring it home for him. I caught a glimpse of him the other day, alone in his room, playing out the story with the little cup and paper Jesus. Maybe he’s wondering… If Jesus went up in a body, why didn’t Gramma?
Heaven has become much more real to our whole family lately. Under normal circumstances, heaven is the place of eating as much pizza and cake and ice cream as I want without exploding, flying like a bird, and never having a bedtime. At least if you ask little boys.
But lately it’s become this invisible place which swallowed their sweet great-grandmother whole. And it raises so many questions, especially of the four year-old variety.
“What did it look like when Gramma died?”
“Was there a lot of blood?”
Nope! No blood. Just peace. She was very quiet and still. It was the first time I’ve ever seen someone die. Although, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t see the moment. She was a ninja about the whole thing. One minute I stood at her bedside, crying because I had to leave. It was time. Jon had to go to work. The next minute, I sat down to blow my nose, tie my shoes, and there it was:
“Is she breathing?”
Looked up. Looked closer. That moment of awful stillness. “I don’t think so.” My mother called my uncle to come quickly. His fingers felt her heartbeat slow to a stop. And that was it.
How can a whole life of laughing, growing, teaching, playing piano, swimming, praying, listening to little whiny girls tell their troubles, cuddling, sharing jewelry, checking blood sugar, giving gifts, singing hymns, picking blueberries for pie, and all the spaces in between be done like *that*?
How can it end? It doesn’t feel right. It’s harsh and ugly and cruel, even though she was beautiful right to the end. But death is harsh, ugly, and cruel. It’s a consequence. Punishment. And if no REAL Jesus flew up into the blue in victory, that’s all it ever would have been. Separation from our Father forever. We bear this natural consequence of sin because it is the curse we let out of Pandora’s box. No one disobeys God and gets away with it. Holiness demands payment for sin. That’s just the way it is.
Homeschool Geek Alert!!! We’re studying ancient Greece, and just read several myths together. I never knew this, but the story of Pandora says that one thing remained in the jar after she turned loose all the world’s sickness, sadness, suffering, and death. Hope remained. For the Christ-follower, that is reality.
Death is ugly. But anyone who believes in Jesus as Savior of their soul can learn to embrace it. Because the hope of eternal life is a Blood Guarantee. An Empty Grave Guarantee. Rising Through the Clouds Unmistakable Message To All Wicked Powers GUARANTEE. He rose from death! And we follow Him – hidden in Christ with God – in everything He did for us. We will rise.
“Where, O death, is now your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55) Those words filled my mother’s spirit after her mother passed into Jesus’ arms.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? She is not here. She has risen!” (Luke 24:5) Those words filled my spirit at the same moment.
“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) Is God awesome or what? He takes that awful moment and everyone in it and transforms it into a treasure chest of jewels! I will live on that moment and the Scripture from the Holy Spirit for the rest of my life until it’s my time to go.
“What did SHE look like when she went up?”
“Actually, I didn’t see her. She was too fast! Her spirit – the REAL Gramma, is with Jesus.” And because children have mighty faith, that was enough for him. That, and a blue paper cup and paper Jesus to drive it home.
Eat that, Enemy. There is NO OPPORTUNITY in death for the devil to take anything from the Christ-follower. I believe that the soul set free from the body is instantly with the Lord. Not only does Scripture tell the details, but our faithful Helper, the Holy Spirit, steps into our grief as Jesus stepped into our punishment, and He makes it all right. Even if it takes a long time.
If I renew my childlike faith, and see death like a four year-old, it won’t be quite so ugly. Painful, yes. Tearful still. But maybe, for the Christ-follower, death is a final act of faith-without-sight – the best chance we have to show love for our God. We climb up onto the top of a stone wall between two worlds. Daddy calls to us: “Jump!” We crouch and spring, discovering instantly that He was holding us the whole time.