given on Sunday, May 26, 2011
Memorial Day Weekend has arrived. Summer officially begins—at least in terms of the calendars hanging on our walls. The kids are out of school, the pews are fuller with family in or emptier because (you can fill in the blank here because it could be the draw of a weekend at the lake, the start of a vacation or maybe a family reunion) . . . . . . . none of that really matters because today we remember.
Our personal memories of the many Memorial Day Weekend events have been filled with laughter, tears, and hope. Our traditions vary from home to home, but one thing is common to all of us. We all remember our family and friends who are no longer living with us. Remembering them often brings up all those questions that nag at us about death, heaven and hell.
Reading through Psalm 90, my mind begins wandering. One verse triggers one set of thoughts, the next one a different set. Reading through it takes time especially if re-reading it, too. We do not know the facts about death, heaven and hell, but the more we read, reflect, and discuss our inner feelings with others I believe we all do hope that heaven is this magical, delightful setting where everything is wonderful. We do not know; but we do hope.
One thought occurred to me while mulling over the ideas that were running through my mind this week is that how can generation after generation of people, all around the globe, keep reaching—and preaching—the same thoughts: You live on this earth, do your best, and you get to go to heaven after your body dies. Not one of us knows the answer with absolute certainty, but we have hope.
Colton’s story, and yes I know you are tire of hearing about him, is a primary example of how experiences shared continue to fuel the conversation about heaven. We do not have any way of knowing what happens as we take the last breath; but from the experiences we learn from others that are similar to Colton’s are referred to as near death experiences, we do have hope.
Visiting the cemeteries this weekend can be a comforting event or it can be troubling. Personally I have never experienced a negative feeling rather it has always been pictured in a rather complicated, ornate frame. Memorial Day is a joyous event in my history.
Memorial Day was a family event. Mom gathered the coffee cans, and we wrapped them in aluminum foil. Next, we filled the car trunk and/with freshly cut roses, irises, or peonies. Possibly, we added a picnic basket along with the tools—a trowel, a watering can, a clippers, etc. Finally, off we would go.
Most of the stops were at the graves of people about which I had only heard stories. Very few did I know personally or could remember maybe I should say. Yet each trip through the cemetery was accompanied by the stories. The trip or trips covered three to five different cemeteries in one to three counties. Memorial Day was a weekend, not just a day.
All our lives we hear stories of those who preceded us. We hear the good and the bad and we are start making our own conclusions about heaven and hell. We create our own understanding of what type of lives here on earth are rewarded by eternal life in heaven or in hell. We have no way of knowing the truth, we simply hope we know.
Colton’s story includes two pieces that stirs up those questions which leave us with so much uncertainty—what is heaven like, will we recognize people, what will they look like, what if we end up in hell. We can become encouraged or we can become unsettled even fearful. Yet the story that Rev. Burpo shares about his own son gives us hope.
Hope defined by the dictionary is “expectation and desire combined.” Now that is a very small picture of hope, in my opinion and the definition provided through a Christian’s point of view really expands that four word definition from Oxford’s American Dictionary of Current English. Going to the various Christian websites, the definition of hope evolves into a more defined concept as explained on the website bible.org:
. . . The modern idea of hope is “to wish for, to expect, but without certainty of the fulfillment; to desire very much, but with no real assurance of getting your desire.”
. . . “Hope” in Scripture means “a strong and confident expectation.” Though archaic today in modern terms, hope is akin to trust and a confident expectation.
Hope . . . stresses two things: (a) futurity, and (b) invisibility. It deals with things we can’t see or haven’t received or both.
Biblically . . . hope is synonymous with salvation and its many blessings, past, present, and future, as promised in Scripture.
In summary, hope is the confident expectation, the sure certainty that what God has promised in the Word is true, has occurred, and/or will in accordance with God’s sure Word. (Accessed on May 28, 2011 at http://bible.org/article/hope).
Personally, I prefer the Christian definition. I may not know all the answers, but by my faith and living life according to God’s expectations, what I do not know makes me feel more assured that I do know. I have hope.
Returning to Colton’s story, the two pieces that move me closer to knowing that heaven and hell are concrete concepts are the two individuals he met—his unborn sister and his great-grandfather Pop who died “a quarter of a century” or 25 years before Colton was even born.
The stories still do not provide us with concrete proof. We still cannot open a door and peek into heaven. Nor can we find another door that opens up into hell—even if it is hot to touch. I do not know, but I do hope.
Colton’s story of meeting Pop, his great-grandfather, certainly shook up his dad. The story that Todd tells about his grandfather and why he had to stay with him so much creates a bittersweet image. The good and the bad all wrapped up together. The relationship that developed between Todd and Pop is repeated throughout the generations and across the geographical landscapes of history.
Of all the people for Colton to meet, Pop meant something extremely personal to Todd. Meeting his unborn sister was a special gift for his mom, too. Having a son who met the two individuals who left such emotional wounds for this family answered their questions and serve as evidence of the hope Christians hold deep within their hearts as they continue to follow God’s teachings.
Today is Sunday framed in a weekend to honor those who have already died. We may not know for sure what to expect after our days are ended here, but we do have hope.
Remember the lines of Psalm 90:
1Our Lord, in all generations
you have been our home.
2You have always been God–
long before the birth
of the mountains,
even before you created
the earth and the world.
3At your command we die
and turn back to dust,
4but a thousand years
mean nothing to you!
They are merely a day gone by
or a few hours in the night.
5You bring our lives to an end
just like a dream.
We are merely tender grass
6that sprouts and grows
in the morning,
but dries up by evening.
Remember the words of a young boy Colton:
- “Well, Jesus told me he died on the cross so we could go see his Dad.”
- “It’s going to be okay. The first person you’re going to see is Jesus.”
Remember the stories you have heard or your own experiences with contact from another realm:
- I believe in guardian angels because someone told me their experiences.
- I know my own grandpa visited me one evening, sitting in his rocking chair, which was in my living room.
- I know people who have experienced death and got to open that door to heaven.
I may not know what heaven is, but I have hope.
Dear loving and heavenly Father,
I know that I do not have all the answers,
But I know your love.
I do not know what tomorrow brings,
But I trust in you.
I do not know what heaven is,
But I have hope.
As we step out the open doors,
Help us lay our fears aside.
As we open our hearts to family and friend,
Guide us in teaching them your love.
In the summer weeks ahead,
Let us demonstrate hope to others
So they too may find answers
To doubts clouding their minds.