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By Ted Schroder,
Easter Day, 2018

When I was eleven years old my grandmother died suddenly at the age of fifty nine. Her death was shock to me. I could not understand how a person so vibrant and alive one moment could be gone the next. I can remember seeing her laid out in her coffin in her bedroom and wondering what had happened to her. Where had she gone? She had been a daily presence in my life up to then as she lived in the next block to us. I spent a lot of time at her house. She took me to the movies and would bake the best peanut brownies for me. I can still hear the sound of the feet of my uncle pounding on the pavement as he ran past my bedroom window early in the morning to tell us that she had passed away.

Her death raised for me questions about the meaning of life and death. What happened when we die? What was life all about? It did not seem logical to me that life ended and there was nothing more. Were we all just physical bodies that deteriorated and moldered away in the grave? But losing a limb did not end life. There seemed to be more to life than our bodies. "God has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God had done from beginning to end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

I read a letter by Benjamin Franklin to a friend who had lost a loved one.

I condole with you, we have lost a most dear and valuable relation, but it is the will of God and Nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside, when the soul is to enter the real life; this world is rather an embryo state, a preparation for living; a man is not completely born until he be dead... We are spirits. That bodies should be lent us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God. When they become unfit for these purposes, and afford us pain instead of pleasure -- instead of an aid, become an encumbrance and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them. Death is that way.

We ourselves prudently choose a partial death. In some cases a mangled limb, which cannot be restored, we willingly cut off. He who plucks out a tooth, parts with it freely since the pain goes with it, and he that quits the whole body, parts at once with all pains and possibilities of pains and diseases it was liable to, or capable of making him suffer.

But where do we go and what form do we take? We men and women are creatures who possess a consciousness that can imagine amazing things and make sense out of all kinds of impressions and data. We have values that are more than physical and material. We are capable of great acts of love, generosity and kindness as well as cruelty and hate. In this life there seems to be no enduring justice or fairness. Is there an accounting beyond the grave, a judgment we all must face one day?

I grew up in New Zealand in the Second World War. My sister and I used to plan what we would do if the Japanese invaded. We would run up into the Southern Alps and hide and they would never find us. I can remember the elation of VJ Day and the victory celebrations. But as the troops returned we heard horrific stories of the cruelty of the POW camps and way in which our men and women in south-east Asia were used as slave laborers, starved, punished and executed. Unless there is an eternal reckoning and a sense of a final judgment beyond this life then this life is, as Shakespeare put it, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

When I was 14 years old a team of missionaries came to my home town and conducted a series of meetings in our church. I heard for the first time that Jesus said to Martha who was grieving because her brother Lazarus died, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)

This struck me like lightning. The Holy Spirit spoke to me through those words. They addressed my questions and concerns. Here was a reality that had substance because it was doubly authenticated by the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the resurrection of Jesus. He was not talking about something that was future but present. It was an eternal life that was available now. My life has an unbroken continuity in Jesus. He is what I need. He is the "I am", the eternal present one. In union with Christ my life is permanent not transitory. He completes my life. My life finds its fulfillment in him. My life will live on even though my earthly body dies. Through the change in my mortal remains I pass through the gate of death into the fuller life of heaven. Through faith in Christ death is not what it seems to be (q.v. 1 Corinthians 15).

The last words of King Edward the Confessor parallel the words of Jesus: "Weep not, I shall not die but live; and as I leave the land of the dying I trust to see the blessings of the Lord in the land of the living."

Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who was with God before the foundation of the world, before I was ever conceived. Through him all things were made. In him is life. To be united in faith, hope and love to Jesus is to share already now the life that is beyond death. Death becomes the gateway to life and life is no longer bounded or threatened by death because it is the life which is raised out of death. Death cannot extinguish it.

If this is so, then I realized that to believe in Jesus is necessary to obtain this assurance. How could I move this revelation from my mind, my intellect, my reason, my consciousness, to the personal relationship that Jesus implied? I couldn't! It was not possible for me to think my way into what Jesus meant by "believe in me." I was not worthy of such a relationship. I was too flawed, too egotistical, too self-centered, too self-conscious to enter into and to expect to have an intimate fellowship with the Son of God, the bearer and author of life. What he had to give and what I wanted was real but unobtainable by me in my sinful condition.

Then the missionary quoted another word of Jesus. "Behold I stand at the door [of your life] and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).
Jesus was standing in front of me and knocking for entry. He would not force his way into my life but was waiting patiently after suffering and dying on the Cross for my sins, to be invited in. What I could not do on my own, in my own strength, by my own merit, he graciously offered to do if I would open the door and welcome him into my life.

As a boy of fourteen I bowed my head and asked him to come into my life. He entered and brought with him a banquet to share with me: eternal life, forgiveness, the power of the Holy Spirit to live a new life, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

Jesus said to Martha, "Do you believe this?" He says it to you, "Do you believe this?" Then open the door and invite him into your life as your Savior and Lord.


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