Suprise of a Lifetime
Like many of you, I have lost people in the last eighteen months and have been unable to personally be with friends and family to grieve, honour and remember together. Whether in person or in virtual format, the loss is real, painful and can emerge at unexpected moments—perhaps a song, a phrase, a photo and the pain returns. After some time, the sharpness dwindles a bit, but the hole in your heart remains.
A scripture stumbled across my path the other day that got me to thinking and has raised my spirits— it’s only really a sentence or two but in the context of recent losses it conjured up some interesting mental images and a personal rethink of a few things.
But before we go there, stop and think of several people you know who have died…whether recently or in years past. For me, I have lost my youngest brother and my favourite cousin both in less than a year. For you it may be a near relative—father, sister, uncle, auntie or a close colleague at work who died suddenly of a heart attack, a friend from your school days … someone who left a hole full of memories in your heart. We all have someone.
Now to that scripture…we are jumping into the story at the very moment when Jesus gives up his life on the cross: Matthew 27:51-53 NIV
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people (or as another translation says ‘many of God’s people’) who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city (Jerusalem) and appeared to many people.”
After Jesus’ burial and resurrection, these people whose tombs had broken open during the quake as he died, suddenly came to life and were now walking around Jerusalem again. We don’t know who these people were, other than that God called them his people, there were many of them, and they had been dead and buried for some time.
Let’s put ourselves into the moment—while driving home today you decide to pop into Bunnings and pick up a couple of things to finally finish off that home maintenance project…in a hurry you rush to the checkout only to find a long queue…as you calm yourself down to endure the wait you notice that the third person in front of you looks exactly like your brother, or auntie or best friend who was buried quite some time ago. It couldn’t be—you were at the service, whether virtually or in person—you know it couldn’t possibly be. And yet you can’t help yourself, you tentatively call out the name—and that third person in front of you in the queue immediately turns smiling hugely having recognised your voice. Can you feel your heart leap in joy at the very thought?? It brings tears to my eyes to think if it were my brother Philip. And this scenario actually happened to many ordinary people in Jerusalem.
Why did this happen? We aren’t told specifically; it could have been to make the disciples’ testimony of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead more credible —after all there were now many in Jerusalem who had just recently run into someone once dead but now alive. Maybe this Jesus story wasn’t so crazy after all. Or it could also have been a harbinger of new life to come, first disciples living a new life in the risen Jesus and secondly the new life at the resurrection as his eternal siblings when he returns.
That moment of resurrection will be our own heart stopping experience of joy only of much greater magnitude than those in Jerusalem so long ago. Meeting our Saviour, being reunited with loved ones, pain free bodies—what a moment that will be!
This short, almost side comment in Matthew, gives me a surge of elation and hope in our present sometimes weary lives—new life is possible now in Jesus, and is guaranteed forever on a level we truly cannot fathom. Thank you, Lord for this passage—because we can fathom this. Humanly it is easier to imagine how it would be to actually run into my brother back from the grave at Bunnings or in a local cafe, and to mentally experience the joy that would be than to try and imagine the wonders you have in store. And that, for me at least, answers the ‘why’ of this passage…and yes, hugging my brother again will happen—but that will only be the very beginning of the beginning of your new life for each of us!!