One reason [why we cannot seem to learn to die], of course, is that death is the one great adventure of which there are no surviving accounts; death, by definition, is what happens to somebody else. Empiricism falters before death. Yet [death] is more certain than love and more reliable than health. Pico Iyer, ‘Death, Be Not a Stranger’, Time Magazine, August 8, 1994, 68 ― in Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary
Last Sunday, I told you a story about my dad and me. Let me refresh your memory. This is what I said:
At fourteen, I accepted Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham rally — in fact, it was 52 years ago to this very day (5 April 1968). When I told my dad what had happened, his first reaction was displeasure. He said that Billy Graham had come to Brisbane in a luxury jet; therefore he wouldn’t listed to him. (You have to remember that jet travel was much less common in 1968 — there was even less than there is in 2020!) Dad went on to say that if Billy had come into town on a donkey, then he would’ve believed him.
You have to unpack that statement a bit. At fourteen, I didn’t and couldn’t. My dad was confessing deep respect for Jesus, while at the same time he held in contempt Christians who didn’t live as Jesus lived.
Dad’s story didn’t end there. And — of course — it didn’t start there either. At fourteen, I didn’t know the beginning of dad’s story well, and the end was still a long way off.
A few words about dad’s early years, which I learned about after I was fourteen.
Dad was raised as a member of the Methodist Church. He must have been a keen youngster, and he decided he’d like to be a minister when he grew up.
Now, to be a minister you had to have completed secondary schooling, which many were not able to do around the early years of Word War Two. Dad would have gone on to secondary school, but his own dad had died and his mum, my gran, needed him to leave school as soon as possible so he could start earning money for the family.
When my dad mentioned his sense of a vocation to his minister, he was brushed off because he didn’t have the education to enter the ministry.
Dad never went back to that church.
By the time I came along, dad was a cultural Christian at best.
That was dad’s beginning.
So, what about his end? Dad died of cancer at the age of 59.
In his last weeks, I got to know him better than I had for a long time.
In particular, I saw his boyhood faith rise from the grave where he had laid it years before.
As his body wasted away, I saw his eyes come to life. I witnessed his dawning, renewed and life-transforming realisation that Christ, the risen One, was with him. Even walking through The Valley of the shadow of death.
Dad became aware that he had a share in the new life; he was being raised with Jesus.
I heard recently (on the By the Well podcast) that Easter is God’s ‘Yes!’ to those who die.
It’s often been said that Easter is God’s ‘No’ to death. But dad died! We all die, and people across the globe are dying today from COVID-19. Yet Easter is God’s ‘Yes’ to us who will die.
Easter is God’s assurance that we can live without fear of death.
Christ is present with us. Alleluia!
Christ is risen indeed.