Hope Lives

woman worshipThe pastor pounded his opinion into our souls. “Death for the believer is a beautiful thing.”

He was wrong. Sure — the aftermath of death — that entrance into heaven is a beautiful result of the life of faith. We can only imagine how it will feel to be free of pain and stress.

But the process of death is not beautiful, not even remotely lovely.

Growing up on a farm, my siblings and I often saw the effects of death. Whether it was a beloved pet smashed under the wheels of a speedy vehicle or a steer slaughtered for the meat, death was shocking and ugly.

And death for humans was no less horrid. Even while performing CPR on my precious grandmother, trying unsuccessfully to bring her back to us — I noted the smells and sights of death. Not a pleasant experience.

Throughout my years in ministry, sitting with families in the ICU, hearing the beeping of machines, smelling the sterile rooms — the approach of death changed the human body until it was almost unrecognizable. Even today when I visit hospitals, I go home and shower off the smell of death.

No wonder mortuaries employ the services of makeup and hair stylists so that our last view of loved ones is more pleasing.

During this holy week, we focus on the crucifixion. But we don’t always realistically picture how awful the death of Jesus was. In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson presented a more realistic view of the broken body, the torture, the results of sepsis and blood poisoning.

So I wonder what actually happened when Jesus came back to life? We know his scars were not miraculously healed. He later showed his wounds to Thomas and the other disciples.

Did he wake up with unshed tears crusted on his eyelids? Did it take him a while to stretch out his arms and legs, to work out the stiffness from lying on a rocky sepulcher? Were his shoulders sore from being stretched on that cross, the results of dislocation and trying to hold up his body for six hours?

Or did God rejuvenate every cell so that Jesus instantly felt more alive than ever before?

What follows then is speculation on our loved ones and their metamorphosis from the ugliness of death to the power of new life. We know the physical becomes spirit. Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear, to walk through walls. We know the curtain between the physical and the spiritual is thin, like a lacey veil.

How amazing it must be to pass through the portal of death and experience forever life!

Someone once wrote the following truth: “Since our loved ones are with God and God is with us, then they can’t be very far away.”

I find hope in thinking of the nearness of Deb, of Betsy, of my grandmother and of Jesus. While death in all its ugliness is inevitable, eternal life is also a certainty. And that will be a good thing.

The trick is to put aside the horror and focus on what will someday be truly beautiful.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines is dedicated to the memory of my precious friend, Deb Mosher, who passed from death to life. She lived with shining hope.

Hope in the Dark

It’s difficult to stay in hope while we’re standing in the darkness.flower in cement

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near his cross and watching him die.

Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart—to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

He also gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers that she had seen him.

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

When we’re in those dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. We feel only the raw depth of our struggles.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of bitterness. “Why did this happen?” “When will it end?” are the questions we scream.

Yet the answer is “Who.”

At the end of the darkness stands the One who conquered it, the One who laughed in the face of death.

And he did it while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you’re living in the depths of a grief that doesn’t seem to ease. Like me, every day is a reminder of the emptiness in your soul, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you’re struggling with illness. Like my son, every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you’re trudging through emotional pain, the reminders of what others did to you, those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb. Life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to embrace you.

Stay in hope, dear one.

The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Living in the Saturdays

A pocket of time separates Good Friday and Easter Sunday – a day we often ignore because we don’t celebrate that day – we just wait.

We live through Saturday, anticipating Sunday.calendar

After the execution of Jesus, the disciples – both men and women – huddled together in fear. At least one of them, Peter, hid alone, ashamed at his refusal to acknowledge the Lord.

They waited during Saturday, daring to hope and waiting to see what Sunday might bring.

We are often stuck in the same time warp.

My son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In one moment, an astrocytoma’s ferocious prognosis changed our lives. Surgery, chemo and radiation. Five years of MRI’s, oncologist appointments and medical bills.

A lifetime of Saturdays, waiting, hoping, praying. Then the glorious ending – a miraculous healing.  The Sunday arrived with joy, but the Saturday required guts and perseverance.

A seed germinated in my creative soul – the idea for a novel. Hundreds of Saturdays working, revising, praying and submitting to publishers. Then the good news and more Saturdays until finally – the finished manuscript became a book, “The Unraveling of Reverend G.”

My mother stepped into the shadows of Alzheimers. Thousands and thousands of Saturdays morphed into 36-hour days as she changed from a mature and intelligent woman into a child-like version of herself.

Day follows day and years repeat until one day it ends. We will lower her shell into the ground. She knows this. We anticipate and dread it each day.

The crosses of our lives thrust us into expanded weekends as we experience pain, separation and the perseverance of waiting.

We know on some level that the pain does end, that Resurrection follows Crucifixion.

But it is the waiting during our Saturdays that tends to shove us into discouragement. Our Saturdays seem interminable as we beg God to send us Easter sunrise.

Yet within our Saturdays, as our character is tested and our perseverance questioned, we learn the most about faith.

For hope that endures requires massive faith and teeth-grinding strength for the length of the journey.

Because we must wait through the Saturdays, the end result seems that much sweeter when Easter Sunday finally arrives.

©2013 RJ Thesman

What Killed Jesus?

What killed him?

Ironic that a man, a carpenter, who spent his life learning to fashion chairs, tables, and cradles from rough wood – then died on the same material. The mallet, an instrument he used to pound joints together now hammered spikes into his wrists. The nails, used to connect legs to table tops, fastened his flesh to a wooden beam.

But what killed him?

Was it the loss of blood and the physical cruelty of the Roman cross? Crucifixion caused fever, cramping muscles, tetanus, lacerated veins, crushed tendons, gangrene, and swollen arteries which throbbed increasingly with each passing hour. The victim pushed his quivering legs against a wooden projection, struggling to move upward for each breath. Then the body relaxed and dropped, tearing flesh and muscle from hands and feet. Each breath required another push upward to prevent suffocation. Prior to Jesus’ execution, his back was opened by a whip embedded with pieces of bone and lead. So as he pushed up to breathe, splinters of wood thrust their barbs into his lacerated skin and exposed muscles. For six hours, Jesus endured excruciating physical torture.

Is that what killed him?

Or was it the burden of grief? Isaiah wrote, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows….” The shocking force of grief can result in physical and certainly, emotional pain. Jesus understood the devastation of grief. He lost his earthly father Joseph and his friend, Lazarus. John the Baptist, his cousin, was beheaded. Friends, relatives and comrades lay on funeral biers while the Son of God watched. He understood how grief mutilates happiness and changes us forever.

Was it grief that killed him?

Or was it sin? Jesus lived a perfect life, never sinning, never doing wrong. He was perfection, holiness and purity. But on the cross, he became sin. All the lies and deceit of the enemy poured over his soul. The adulterous relationships, the murders and the gossip projected their graphic images. The abuse of children and the rape of women shattered his senses. Pornography, unkind words and every evil thought swept over him like the black tides of a night sea. It was his first experience with sin, the final defeat of his integrity. No wonder he died.

But maybe it was the loneliness that killed him. Jesus depended on his Father for everything. He spent hours talking with God, asking for wisdom and strength. The Father adored the Son, and their communication embodied everything sweet and pure. But when Jesus became sin, he felt as if God left him alone. For one awful moment, Jesus felt the heartache of abandonment.

“Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried. Only silence answered. The loneliness of that moment broke the Savior’s heart. He met hell face to face and he died.

Was it the physical cruelty of crucifixion, the emotional distress of grief, the spiritual anguish of sin or the intense loneliness of rejection?

What really killed Jesus?

All of the above.

Why did he do it? Because he didn’t want us to live our lives within the hell of physical pain, emotional torment or spiritual loss. He did it for love.