Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children have a unique way of seeing life. Sometimes their words surprise us. I am reminded of the little girl who asked her grandmother, “Are you rotten on the inside?” The woman stared at her granddaughter and smiled, “No, sweetheart.” She answered, “But why do you ask?” “Well,” the girl began, “When apples are all wrinkled on the outside, they are rotten on the inside.”
Children have a unique way of seeing death as well. They will innocently question “What does ‘dead’ mean?” and stare you straight in the eye and ask, “When will you die?” They’ll observe the actions of adults around them and whisper. “Why is Aunt Sally crying?” For children, death may seem like a nothing more than a weekend vacation, wondering “Will Grandpa be back for my birthday?”
Over the course of three decades of parish ministry, I have heard many familiar questions spoken by children concerning God’s new heaven and new earth, and the promises of life everlasting we hear during this joyous Eastertide. So this morning, I would like to share with you a meditation based on three of the most common questions asked by children. They came in the form of a letter from a young girl after the death of her older brother. Perhaps these are your questions as well. First, “Where is my brother now?” Second, “Will I know him again in heaven?” And third, “What is heaven like?”
Let us begin with the question, “Where is my brother now?” Whenever a child asks, “Where is my brother, my mother or father, grandmother or grandfather?” I simply answer, “With Jesus.” I then ask, “Do you remember the story when Jesus was being killed on the cross on Good Friday? There were two robbers with Jesus, one on his left and the other robber on his right. The one robber on the left shouted at Jesus in an angry voice, ‘Jesus, if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and prove to us that you are divine.’ But the other robber on the right, simply said to Jesus, ‘Remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to that robber on the right, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.’ That phrase is the key to my understanding and explanation of death. It is one of the most profound and hopeful promises. It says, “Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” As a pastor, I usually don’t have to say much more. It is enough for most children to know that their loved one is in Jesus’ care and presence.
Then, the little girl raised her second question: “Will I know my brother when I see him?” Again my answer was simple, “Yes. You will see your brother again, and you will know him.” And then I reminded her of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, as he was leaving them. “I am going to my Father’s house to prepare a place for you.” That is a beautiful promise and easy for a child to understand. Jesus was a carpenter and he thought in terms of carpentry. We believe that even now, he is going to his Father’s house in heaven, in order to build a room for you. As God’s children you are destined for the Father’s house for all eternity, and he is preparing a place just for you. There you will greet those you have known and loved.
For the little girl that was enough of an answer, but for your benefit, let me share with you one more conviction. I believe that when we die, we human beings do not lose our individuality. Yes, we may take on new more glorious bodies. But even with that change, there is something about our individuality and uniqueness that is retained in heaven. The Christian faith is ultimately about our individual and unique relationship to God being restored in Jesus Christ. We do not believe that we will simply become a part of some glorious light, or that we will be poured out as water into a boundless ocean. We believe in the resurrection of the dead and that when that happens, our own unique and God-given characteristics will shine through.
Now let us turn to the child’s third question, “So what is heaven like?” Whenever, I hear this question, I ask, “What do you think? What are some of your ideas?” We chat for a while, and then I add: “It’s going to be unbelievably beautiful. It will be so beautiful, that you and I cannot imagine how perfectly wonderful it will be. Scripture says that no human mind can conceive or human eye can envision what good things the Lord God has prepared for us. Our minds are not big enough to think such thoughts about heaven and so we create visions of what we think heaven make be like.” We might think we need a bucket list to accomplish all we want in this world, but in heaven, the new possibilities will be endless, and our trivial pursuits in this world will seem shallow in comparison.
The prophet John, in the book of Revelation, had yet another vision of God’s future plan. He said that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and the home of God will come to dwell with us. God will make something new and wonderful even in the midst of our old pains and sorrows. God will dwell with you, wiping every tear from your eyes. There will be no more war. No more death. No more pain. No more cancer. No more heart attacks. No more starvation. No more night. No more darkness. There will only be peace and light. It will be so beautiful, and so wonderful that you cannot comprehend it.
With such a description, children will often ask, “If that is true, why doesn’t’ everyone want to go there? Why are people so afraid to die?” It’s a good question, but I rather suspect it’s because we’re all a bit cautious. We don’t quite trust God’s promise to give us eternal life freely as a gift of love. We are not quite sure that God can be that good? That’s especially true when someone we love has died- perhaps, some one far too young. We want to believe, but sometimes it is too hard. If only we could see life and death through the eyes of children.
Children have a unique way of seeing life and death. We could learn from them. They hear Jesus’ words of promise freely spoken, and with innocent eyes and open hearts, they receive these words as a gift of hope and as a promise that cannot be taken back. “Your loved ones are with Jesus; you will see them again and greet them. It will be a place that is better by far, than anything you can imagine. My friends, it may seem too good to be true- but it is a promise given to you from the heart of a loving God. You need simply believe. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.