"Easter Morning" painting by He Qi
Submitted by Steve Pearson: Lay Member of Annual Conference
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 [Emphasis added.]
For those that have been with me on a mission trip or just happened to hear me speak in church on those couple of occasions, you know that this is my favorite Bible verse of all. If it is at all possible to sum up the Christian life in one Bible verse, which it is not, this would certainly be it. If you believe in God there is no such thing as death, there is resurrection. And, that is what lent and Easter is all about. That’s why Easter is my favorite holiday of all. Even above Christmas, and that was true in my childhood as well.
One Easter Sunday, many years ago, but in my adult years, I sat in Trinity United Methodist Church and listened to what I still consider the best sermon of all. No offense to any of the other ministers I know and have known, who have, together, shaped my life. I don’t recall the pastor’s name. When he got up to deliver his sermon he did not read scripture, and he just began to tell a story, a story about a young man who was paraplegic and suffered numerous health issues from the day he was born. The story was not about his life necessarily but about the young man’s preparation for death. He knew he was going to die in his late teen years so he planned his own funeral service. It was a celebration, in fact, at the end the sound system came on in the church and it played the original theme song from Star Wars, a very celebrative song. Then the minister at the funeral service read a letter the young man had written and it basically said, “It is now time for me to celebrate. I have been disabled and sick my whole life. I have enjoyed life but I am ready for heaven for I will be free of my wheel chair and my illnesses.” He ended the letter by saying, “I am now ready to really live.” After reading the letter, the minister of the Easter morning service ended his Easter message with, “People, that is not death, that is resurrection”. And the lights then came on in the darkened sanctuary. He never mentioned God, or Jesus, or a Bible verse, he just said that last sentence after telling the story of this young man and that was it.
Since that day I have gone back and reflected on my experiences with death of those who were very close to me. First, let me say I had a very fortunate childhood, I was surrounded by Christians. My grandparents and my parents were all very faithful people. One of the most faithful people I have ever met is my own maternal grandmother. Now, she was Baptist so my parents when they started dating had to sneak off to dances. I’m not kidding. And, I am not kidding when I say I was her favorite grandchild. That’s true, ask any of my siblings or cousins, I was her favorite. Some say it is because I was the smitten image of my grandfather but I think it was just because I deserved to be her favorite. We just had that special connection with each other.
Anyway, my grandmother was a great lady but one of her faults is that she always talked about her passing. There was not a Christmas, Easter or birthday, of anyone, that she didn’t say, “well you know this will be my last one.” She had heart issues and she was sure she was going to have a heart attack and die at any moment. Of course, this went on for 20 years. Then, while I was in college she did have a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Once she got settled in at the hospital and it was ok to call her I called her from my fraternity house in Columbia, Missouri. We talked for a few minutes and I finally said, “Well, grandma, how are you feeling?” She responded by saying, “You don’t need to worry about me, I am going to be just fine. I am great.” After hanging up with my grandmother I called my dad and told him that something wasn’t right with grandma in that she kept on going on about how she was going to be just fine and don’t worry about her. That was not the usual talk of my grandmother. I knew it was time. About 12 hours later she passed. She knew she was about to go on to a better place. People, that’s not death, that’s resurrection.
About 10 years later I was visiting my parents, which I often did because I was not only the perfect grandchild but I was also the perfect child, and my dad, Jack Pearson, was showing me photos of renovations to the First Baptist Church of Cobden, Illinois. For you young people, this is when we actually had paper photographs, we didn’t have cell phones where we stored our photographs. This church is the church that my grandmother attended most of her life and the place my mother had attended in childhood and now where by parents attended after my father retired and they “moved back home.” I asked my dad what he was going to do with those photos and he said I have these photos so that I can show them to your grandmother. That stunned me, my grandmother was deceased. He quietly put the photographs back in his pocket and we continued to talk about the renovations to the church. A week later my father passed from pneumonia. He was prepared for his journey to heaven and to catch up with my grandmother and show her the photos. People, that’s not death, that’s resurrection.
But, my best experience of resurrection and not death, comes from my mother. She had health issues for many years. But, she continued to live a good life. About five years after the passing of my father, Jack, we finally had to put my mother in hospice care. As my niece, my mother’s granddaughter, often did she went to visit my mother and spend a good bit of time with her one afternoon. They talked about things and were having a good visit as usual. Then, out of the blue, my mother said to my niece, “Oh, did I mention that my boyfriend came to visit me.” My niece was stunned. My mother had never mentioned a boyfriend before. Had she found a new boyfriend in this hospice care place? What in the heck was her grandmother, my mother, talking about? Who is this new boyfriend? It completely caught my niece off guard. Finally, my niece couldn’t resist and had to ask her about this boyfriend. So, my niece says, “Grandma Mae, I did not know you had a boyfriend, tell me about him.” And my mother said, “Oh Cathy, yes, you do. You know my boyfriend, it’s Jack.” My niece didn’t inquire any further of this boyfriend. Less than 24 hours later my mother passed quietly in her sleep. She had gone off to see her boyfriend of so many years, Jack. You see people, this is not death, this is resurrection.
It is because of this experience with resurrection and the wonderfulness that I have witnessed and seen that Easter is without a doubt my favorite celebration. I know without a doubt, that if you believe in Him you will not experience death, but you will experience eternal life. That brings hope to each and every one of us. What else can be celebrated more than that? NOTHING!!!! THERE IS HOPE TO ALL WHO BELIEVE IN HIM!!
Thank you, God, for Jesus and the gift of everlasting life. That gives us so much comfort and hope. Amen.