With Easter behind us, it can seem acceptable, even right, to move on from its message. But the reality is, only as we walk out the message of Easter is its greatest power seen.
I think of my friend Neil. We became friends over a common enemy.
The name of our enemy: Motor Neurone Disease.
My regular readers would be familiar with this disease, which I have now been living with for three years. For those new on the scene, MND is a progressive illness that robs a person of their physical strength, and eventually, their life, in an unusually short time. Currently, there are no treatments available that stop or reverse its progress. No wonder MND is called “the beast” by medical professionals and sufferers alike.
Neil was a strong and fit husband and dad of 52 years of age. He was a volunteer lifesaver, motorbike rider, larrikin and worked hard in the mining industry. He was diagnosed exactly a year after me, in January 2014. The beast took him in just 14 months.
I visited Neil many times over that period, none more memorable than one morning in September last year. We sat talking about the effects of MND. I encouraged Neil that he was more than his flesh, more than skin and muscle. That inside his weakening body was a spirit and soul that was eternal, a spirit and soul that not even MND could permeate.
On the wall in his lounge room that day, I looked up and saw a picture of a ship in a storm.
I explained to Neil that death is somewhat like that ship. The ship departs, and as in death, people wave goodbye, until we can’t see it anymore. The ship is just as real and just as large as it was when it departed, but those left ashore lose site of it. Her diminished size is only felt by those left behind, not by her.
Just at the moment when we say, “There! She’s gone!” There are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There! She comes!”
And that is dying.
Neil prayed a simple prayer that day asking God to come into his life and fill him with His love and peace. He asked God to forgive him of his sins and give him a fresh start.
Last Friday, Good Friday, I sat with Neil again. This time, by his bedside. I held his hand and asked him to squeeze mine if he could hear and understand me.
I asked Neil if he could remember the story of the ship. He squeezed my hand.
I told him that it looked like he was about to “say goodbye” to this shore but that he would be welcomed in heaven when he left here.
“Do you believe that?” I asked. He squeezed.
I pressed him further, “Neil, do you still believe with your heart that Jesus is your Saviour, that He died and rose again so that you could have eternal life, and that you will be with Him soon?” He squeezed.
Then, I asked him to do something. I asked that as he knew the time was drawing closer, to thank Jesus, even just in his mind, for His love and peace. I encouraged Neil to tell Jesus that he loved Him.
“Will you do that?” I asked. And he squeezed my hand one last time.
The next day, Easter Saturday, the day many call Silent Saturday, Neil died.
Neil is not here, but he is there.
And that very distinction, the very fact that there is a “there” is made possible by what we just celebrated, by the reality of the cross, the Easter message.
Because of the cross of Easter and because of the resurrected Jesus, we can be assured that Neil lives today in a better place, and free from disease.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
I encourage you today, put life and death in perspective.
This life is only for a time. All of us pass through the veil of death. It is not the end, but just the beginning of life on the other side. From this side, for us, death is a time of sorrow, of loss and of separation. But from the other side, for them, it is a time of release, of reunion, of rest and reward.
From this side, death looks like the end; from the other side, it is the beginning.
Neil is on the other side and when it is our time to take that journey, if we have accepted Jesus as Neil did, then He will be on the other side waiting to welcome us, united with Him forever.
I said to Neil as I left on Saturday, “Neil, we will see each other again, it may not be here, but it will be there.”
When I took Neil’s funeral yesterday, hundreds came to show their support for his family and because of the man they knew. Many of those were from the life saving community who came to show their solidarity.
Do you know that when a lifesaver rescues a life, it is about more than that immediate response?
Saving a life extends beyond the saving. It is about the life they have been saved to live; about the family they get to hug one more time and the memories they still get to experience.
Similarly, our eternal salvation is about more than just securing a future in heaven, it’s also very much about living in the presence of Jesus, experiencing His love, life and light here on earth.
Jesus has promised that whatever life throws at us and no matter how great the storm may be, He will never leave us. He has promised to fill our lives with adventure as we serve Him. He has promised that with our salvation comes a deeper sense of purpose and direction for our life. His presence truly has the ability to strengthen us in our weakness, to replace our mourning with joy, to fill our minds with wisdom and our hearts with understanding.
May you know His saving grace today.
If you want to help me keep Neil’s legacy alive, I encourage you to forward this, his story, to a friend, share it, or consider donating to help find a cure to the beast: https://hunter2016.everydayhero.com/au/team-phil/posts/602196