Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Take That, Death!

Still basking in Easter glow, I've been thinking this week about a few of the people I've been privileged to shepherd in their dying days.  Driving to work on roads lined with trees, still in their winter nakedness, I couldn't help but think of Ed McWha.  You'll see the connection in a moment.

Ed was a big man—tall, dark, lean, strong as a bear.  He wore black horn-rimmed glasses which added a kind of a professor look to his size.  I loved Ed.  He and his wife, Irene, loved God. loved the church, and loved their pastor.  They were serious followers of Jesus.  They knew what they believed, and they sought to live what they believed.

I still remember cringing when Ed told me the doctor said he had cancer.  I hate cancer.  But Ed had it and there wasn't a lot they were going to be able to do about it.  They pretty much told him to get ready to die.  Ed took this news like a Christian.  He wanted to live but he was not afraid of death.  He believed with all his heart that Jesus took care of that problem for His people through the cross and resurrection.

Ed and I visited several times over the next many months.  We'd talk about life and faith and Jesus and stuff.  We talked frankly about death.  We talked of muscadines too.  Muscadines are a kind of a grape that is more tree-like than vine-like.  Ed and Irene loved muscadines and muscadine jelly.  I don't know if they liked muscadine wine, and even if they did they probably wouldn't tell their Baptist preacher.  They gave Dayna and I muscadines every year.  I'm pretty sure Ed was convinced that some of those fruit trees along the river of life in heaven are surely loaded with muscadines.  We had good conversations along the way.  And every time we talked, I could see how cancer had taken a little more out of him—turning a strong, lean man into skin and bones.

I still remember when Irene called and said that Ed, on hospice care by then, was probably a day or two out from death.  I headed over to visit with Ed.  I read him some Scriptures like 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 …

Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed every day, for our light and momentary trouble is preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  For we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  And we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house in the heavens, not built by human hands.

He grinned so big I'd have needed a wide angle lens to get a picture of it.  He nodded his head.  "That's right," he said with the weak and breathy voice of one whose body had been pillaged and plundered by a relentless cancer.  "That's right."  I could tell he wanted to say more but had neither the strength nor the concentration to do so.

Then I told him a story from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress about how Christian and his companion had made it to Living River.  All they had to do was cross the river and they would make it to the City of God.  Christian was frightened of the river's swift and powerful current.  He was a bit hesitant.  His companion was not.  He entered the river and shouted, "Don't be afraid, Christian.  I have felt the bottom and it is sound."  And suddenly, Ed raised his bony, stick-figure arms to the sky and shouted, "Woo-hoo!"  That was Ed's two syllable version of Paul's mocking of death in 1 Corinthians 15—"O grave, where is your sting?  O death, where is your victory?  Death has been swallowed up in victory in Jesus Christ our Lord."  This was Ed's "Na-na-na-na-na-na!" to Death.  It was Ed's sticking out his tongue at Death, poking a finger in Death's eye.  It was Ed laying hold of his faith in the death-killer—the crucified, resurrected Jesus.  It gave me chills that day.  It still does.  I think it gave Death chills too because for just a fleeting second or two, I'd have sworn that death looked emaciated and Ed looked strong as an ox.  Ed died two days later.  Death took Ed's body for now, but it couldn't take Ed.  Ed went on to be with Lord, once again strong and healthy and alive.  And I wouldn't be surprised if he meets me at the gate when it comes my turn to die with a sack full of muscadines to welcome me home.

You know, had Jesus never come out of that tomb, had Friday, instead of Sunday, been the end of the story, Ed would have had to die in fear.  "Woo-hoo" would have been "Uh oh."  But Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave, and for those who put their trust in Him, all the power of death is dead.

Take that, Death!

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