My friends are of different faiths and beliefs – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, new age, pagan, atheist, agnostic; Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, non-denominational; Charismatic, born-again, traditional, non-practicing, social… We’re all connected. We’re all human. We’re all trying to make our way on this planet that’s our home away from Home. Fittingly, today is both Good Friday and Earth Day.
Sometimes I try to imagine what life would’ve been like if I hadn’t been brought up Christian. It’s difficult because I’ve always been around Jesus. I haven’t asked my friends, but I wonder if some of them think my faith in Christ is like a fairytale. Like believing in some Cosmic Prince Charming who’s about to return on His white horse to rescue us…
If I were brought up in another culture that worshiped another god, would it be easy to leave those beliefs behind and follow a new god? Would it be like liking eating Italian food all your life, then finding another cuisine you loved even better? I’m not sure. And although I have much respect for other belief systems and how they originated, no other religious figure captures my heart like Jesus (the Jesus in Scripture, not the Jesus that’s sometimes presented by mean-spirited so-called followers of His throughout the centuries).
And I don’t see Jesus as belonging just to Christians. If that were so, Christianity would be like one big exclusive club – and although some try to live their lives around that concept, it’s simply not true. Jesus is for everybody. Even Scripture says that “God so loved the world…”
If you were God and created a planet and set your babies there, and they needed intervention, wouldn’t you get as close to them as possible? If God the Father had a Son that would be born into our world, wouldn’t it makes sense that He would help us? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son…”
And if the only way to experience what it’s like to be a human was to go through what we do, including death, wouldn’t you do it – if it meant you could have your children with you forever? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life…”
Death took my father when I was 14. He battled lung cancer after years of smoking. But what was produced by his faith remains … and the prayers he prayed when he was here still resonate.
My dad and mom introduced me to Jesus by taking me to church, and I have a vague memory of sitting there in a pew as a toddler. At 5, I remember looking up at cathedral spires and feeling dizzy from the height. And when I prayed, sometimes I’d send up really long prayers with hardly any breathing room, trying to make sure God heard me.
Around the time of my dad’s illness, one of my sisters told me about the Person of Christ – of how He wasn’t so far away after all. It was kind of like knowing all about someone you admired and read about and wanted to meet vs. hanging out with that person and falling in love. I prayed to know Him better and told Him my life was His, outside of any religious organization. It was just between Jesus and me.
And that caused some problems at church with people who thought no one was worthy of going directly to Jesus, that you had to go through a religious authority or even Mary or the saints first. I never meant to stir up trouble, but I always questioned everything. I didn’t look down on anyone else’s way of praying, and didn’t think they should look down on mine either. After a while, the Scriptures started making more sense; the stories seemed to come to life. And He started speaking in such tangible ways, although not in ways I always wanted…
I tried everything to make my dad better. In addition to praying for him myself, I called prayer lines and sprinkled holy water on his bed when he wasn’t in his room. And when nothing good seemed to happen from my efforts, I said, “God, if you’re going to take my dad, don’t let him lose his hair…” Yeah, maybe a childish prayer, but, to me, his hair was beautiful – and I heard what chemo did to a person. My dad had already lost quite a bit of weight, and one of his lungs had already been cut out. It was difficult to watch someone you love hurt so much … and to have to lose his hair, too, just seemed degrading in a sense. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did.
Weeks passed, and one morning, while passing the kitchen, I heard my mom and dad talking. My mom said, “I don’t understand why you haven’t lost your hair…” And my dad said, “I don’t either – even my doctors don’t understand.”
They never knew I heard them. I quickly made my way upstairs and sat speechless. God had really heard my prayer… He really answered! But then, just as suddenly, I remembered what my prayer had actually been… “God, if you’re going to take my dad…” And that’s how I knew he was going to die.
The day of the funeral was overcast and gloomy, with the threat of rain. I rebelled by wearing a colorful outfit, not black. It didn’t seem right to wear black if I believed that my dad was in Heaven with Jesus. And I prayed again. Since He was God and could do anything, I asked Him to make the sun come out and to make there be no organ music. Organ music always gave me the creeps, especially at funerals.
During the service, I heard my mom lean over to ask someone what happened to the organ music. No one ever knew. And as we walked out of the church to go to the cemetery, it was like a scene from a movie – the clouds parted and the sun came out…
A few years later, my mom told us what had happened at the moment my dad died. She had waited because she couldn’t talk about it without crying, and my mom never liked to cry in front of anyone. It might’ve also been because a priest told her that it was probably in her imagination, and she didn’t want anyone to think she was crazy.
On the day my dad passed from this life to the next, my mom was the only one of the family at the hospital with him. She said she could tell by the sound of his breathing that it was almost time for him to leave… His sick body, with the breathing tube and other tubes attached, had taken all it could.
My mom looked away for a moment, and she said that when she looked up at him again, he was completely healthy – and he was smiling, looking toward the foot of his bed like he saw someone he knew. And then my mom said he sat up, as if to greet that person, and when he did, she saw his sick body asleep on the bed … and his healthy body faded away toward the person he sat up for… She actually saw his spirit leave his body… And I believe the person he greeted was Jesus.
This Magnificent Person of Christ is as real as any other person. But He’s more. He transcends time and space and all our preconceived ideas about Him. He breaks through, into our world, and tries to get our attention. And when He has it, He speaks to us in the way we’ve been created to hear Him. Maybe through nature, or words, or art, or other people, or dreams, or something that’s just between the two of you. And always through Scripture.
He doesn’t care what religion we’re part of, or what beliefs we hold close. He sees deep into our hearts and knows all our thoughts and what makes us unique. He knows about our scars and what’s at the root of everything. And He loves us passionately. He’s crazy about us. No matter what, He doesn’t take His love away – or increase it or lessen it based on what we have or haven’t done.
And I, for one, am grateful for that last part. Because if He counted all the times I’ve messed up, I’d be a “goner.” I’d be in detention. You’d think that maybe I would’ve grasped this concept of His unmerited love a little better as I went along. But I didn’t. And probably never will fully until I see Him in Heaven. Which is why I love the story of Simon Peter. (I’ll save that for another post…) I still mess up, like we all do, but there is His grace. Always.
We don’t become robots when we’re around Jesus, we become more alive, which also means we have to constantly choose to do things His way. It’s a choice. And it’s not always easy. Especially when we want to do the opposite of what He wants, and sometimes do… But if we want His help, He’s right there.
A few years after my dad died, I went back to questioning Him – about why He let that happen, why He didn’t heal him. About why He heals some, and not others. I didn’t just question, I got angry. I remember yelling at Him in my room one day when no one else was around. The grief I didn’t fully let out years before now rushed madly. I kept telling Him that it wasn’t fair, that we are all just human beings on this planet and that none of us asked to be born here, and dying didn’t seem right. “It’s not fair, Jesus!” I kept telling Him.
Finally, after I had gotten quiet and sat huddled on the floor, feeling completely heartbroken, I heard Him speak. It’s always a little difficult to explain exactly, but it’s like hearing another voice that’s not audible … and I know that doesn’t make sense. I don’t have a good way to describe it… But when it happens, you know. It makes you look around to see if someone else is in the room with you. And then you realize, yes, there is … it’s Him…
What I heard were these exact words: “I don’t think it’s fair either, and that’s why I did something about it.”
That snapped me out of everything negative I was feeling. The heartbreak was gone, the anger was gone, the despair was gone — for that circumstance, anyway. As the years go by, new challenges and questions arise, and just like in any relationship, there are misunderstandings and disagreements, and times when I just want to walk out. But His love always captures my heart, and I don’t want to leave.
Every Good Friday, I remember what He said about death — that He did indeed do something about it. He defeated death by going through the horribleness of it all – and came out on the other side, alive and well. And now He lives to help us get through it, too, to the other side… And to live life abundantly now, not later. So that when it’s time for “later,” that transition will be seamless, like falling asleep on Earth and waking up in Heaven.
And I also learned that sometimes healing happens through crossing over, which is what He chose for my dad. If I could see my dad today, I know he’d tell me that everything’s more than all right, that death has no more power for those who believe in Him, and that we’ll have wonderful reunions someday.
Jesus is no fairytale figure, but He is like a Cosmic Prince Charming after all. He’s no dead historical figure, because He truly is the risen Christ. Alive and well in Heaven and on Earth through His Holy Spirit. Every day is “Earth Day” to Him — because we’re here, and He loves us too much to leave us alone — and that’s the “good” in Good Friday.