This is another ‘spontaneous’ post; one written and then published straight away, like the one I did on what would have been Fiona’s and my wedding anniversary.
I don’t normally ‘do’ calendar festivals; I don’t particularly think of any day as being ‘special’, whether Christmas, Easter, my birthday… but sometimes these ‘recognised’ festivals do get me thinking along the lines of the things they are trying to ‘celebrate’ on those days. Which, when you think about it, is probably a fair part of the idea.
So, today is Easter Sunday, and I have just got back from Church where, as often happens there, I was completely lost in worship. We’d just finished a song, and David, the saxophonist, just continued to play a haunting little riff… and within a few seconds, the congregation were singing in the Spirit, a beautiful sound of blended, harmonised voices, with what could be heard as discordant counterpoints and undercurrents but because of the dynamics (relative volumes) they did not clash but enhanced the whole song. Quite the most beautiful Spirit singing I have heard in a long time, and only really possible with a largeish congregation because of the way the harmonies worked.*
Actually that’s not entirely relevant for today’s article, except that this article is about Easter Sunday. The day where Christians all over the world celebrate that Jesus of Nazareth, having been dead for a couple of days**, is resurrected. He came back to life; not just the same life as He had before He died, but risen to an entirely new kind of life, thus modelling our own resurrections at the ‘end of the age’.
Death had been beaten. Up until then, death was seen as The End. There were a number of ideas floating around like some sort of afterlife, but up until then, nobody had come back again after having been dead for that long. Isaiah 25:7-8 says:
“On this mountain He will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
He will swallow up death forever”
…and this idea is covered again and again in the Bible. The promise that death would no longer be the terror and threat that, up until the Resurrection of Jesus, it had been.
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
This is Good News! It means that Death is not the end. I have had close acquaintance with death and its effects, over the last six months since my wife Fiona died. And I have to tell you that death no longer holds any terror, any fear, for me. This is, and has been, my personal experience. Because I know, because God has shown me, that death is not the end. He has shown me what Fiona has now. And I have seen an amazing woman of God face death with utter calm, peace and serenity – because of what she knew to be true – that again death is not the end.
God showed me lots of really deep things of the Spirit last night (I was in the bath, actually!), one of which was that Death is no longer the worst thing that can happen. He showed me that while at the same time pointing to the last six months, where I have lived in a certainty (not simply a denial of the facts!) that there is a life beyond the grave; Fiona is there, and she is safe in Jesus’s company. I cannot even begin to tell you what an incredible source of comfort and reassurance that is. This knowledge is, quite literally, a Life Changer.
I’ve always had a great passion for the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien; I have posted before on themes related to his work. Now, the following quotation is indeed from the last of the three epic Lord of the Rings movies ‘The Return of the King’; however, these actual lines were not written by Tolkien himself, but by the scriptwriters for the movie. The scene is in the beleaguered city of Minas Tirith, where the forces of Mordor are about to break down the last gate and destroy everyone within. Gandalf and the hobbit Pippin are awaiting their fate as the gate begins to splinter:
“Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.”
– From the movie ‘Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King’
As I said, the quotation was from the movie, but the inspiration was actually from Tolkien himself. In this first quote, the hobbit Frodo is dreaming in the house of Tom Bombadil, early on in their adventure:
“That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind; a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”
– ‘The Fellowship of the Ring‘, Book I, Chapter 8: “Fog on the Barrow-Downs”
This is mentioned again at the end of The Return of the King, when Frodo departs on the Elven-ship:
“[T]he ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.“
– ‘The Return of the King’, Book VI, Chapter 9: “The Grey Havens” [emphasis mine]
One of the main reasons why Fiona wanted the Annie Lennox song ‘Into the West’ played at her memorial service was because she saw herself as fulfilling that promise; she would be going ‘Into the West’, with her Jesus. What an awesome thought.
Here then, I re-present the life-memories video that my daughter made for her Mum’s memorial service, with that song in it. This is the life of a great woman of God, whose confidence in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was unshakeable, that He would carry her through the grey rain-curtain and on ‘into the West’:
No, as Gandalf said, “the journey does not end here”. The ‘shroud that covers all nations’ (Is 25:7-8) has been destroyed. Our physical death in this world is simply the transition from our present life into the even greater, fuller, and more complete Life, beyond the veil of death – beyond the grey rain-curtain, if you will – and into the light, love, power and glory of Heaven. The ‘white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise’. How can one fear Death when you realise this sort of thing – despite being quoted from a fantasy story – is real, that it’s true?
I claim that it’s true. How can I prove this? I can’t do it empirically. I can’t, except to give my personal testimony as to what I have seen, what God has showed me. I do hope it comes across as a transferable idea, that is, that you as the reader can derive some benefit from it. I know it’s difficult when it’s someone else’s story, but hopefully the testimony of someone who has been through this fire, and seen all the things I have seen, will help you in some way if you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, or indeed with life itself. Let me encourage you that the promise of the Kingdom of God is not, in fact, primarily concerned with the ‘afterlife’ – though of course it does indeed concern that closely – but also and especially it concerns bringing the power and life of that Country into our present world.
You see, when Jesus said, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”, (Mt 6:10) He meant it. And He demonstrated it; by performing all the miracles He did, He demonstrated that in fact the power of the Kingdom can indeed be brought into this life, and our lives can be lived in the knowledge and exercise of that power. Because the fear of Death has been defeated by Jesus’s Resurrection.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something that has been transmitted down the ages as something that is true. Granted, that of itself doesn’t make it true, but there is also the testimony of countless Christian witnesses down the centuries, all of whom have claimed that in fact Jesus Christ is alive and living within their hearts by His Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit within them, and their real consciousness of His presence, convinces these people (including myself) that this incredibly weird, far-fetched and too-good-to-be-true tale is, in fact, completely true. (And when you hear spontaneous, supernatural singing like that which we had in Church this morning, that just adds to the convincing evidence for me).
Just think about it like this: the one greatest fear, the most powerful natural force in history, the one thing that most humans spend their entire lives in fear of – Death – is no longer the power that it was. Its power – its ability to damage, to take away, to destroy forever – has been taken away because Death is no longer the end. Jesus said, ‘The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.‘ (Jn 10:10 KJV)
Living in the truth of that awesome fact – instead of fear of Death, Life More Abundantly – absolutely has to be one of the greatest keys to receiving the ‘Peace of God that transcends [goes beyond] understanding’ (Phil 4:7). This stuff is true; it is real, and I have lived it.
Peace to you.
The header image for this post is Gandalf and Pippin’s dialogue transliterated into the Elvish script known as the ‘Tengwar‘, as developed by J. R. R. Tolkien for his extensive development of the languages of Middle-Earth. You wouldn’t have seen this in the movies, although they were a beautifully detailed (and in my opinion accurate) representation of Tolkien’s fictitious world. There is so much richness in the Tolkien books; a whole world invented by the genius of that one man.
*For a good example of this kind of singing, take a look at this video from about 4:44 onwards.
**Most Christians think of Jesus as rising from the dead after three days. I have a problem with that description of the time gap: Died Friday, rose from the dead Sunday. No way that’s three days…there are a number of different ideas about that timescale which I won’t explore here, but suffice to say He’d been dead longer than a mere half an hour, which is the longest kind of time where we have records of people whom we thought were dead but actually they ‘recovered’. Drowning victims, that kind of thing. He really was proper dead and He was resurrected. Wow.