While in God's Grip!
This morning I woke up wondering if Jesus ever returned to the hill where he hung on a cross and died? I thought of the streets that he was once again walking on, that his blood dripped on, as unruly people cried out at him, and if he thought of those people as blood had been replaced by dirt and dust? And then I was thinking about the tomb that his body, bloody, broken, gray and wrapped in a piece of cloth, then closed into darkness. Did he sit and look and wonder, like so many of us do at places where our lives were changed.
Scripture doesn't share any of these moments, or if they happened. I have to believe that somewhere in Jesus' thoughts, these memories were still very real and present.
A few years ago a dear friend and colleague, Rev. Grant Berry died, and I was honored to officiate at his service. He had served at one of the churches that I had been called to serve. He and his wife often attended, and he would share with me memories of his ministry.
When he served a church firmly tucked in the Bible belt, he and his wife were leaders for a small boy scout troop that would meet at the parsonage. One day they invited a young African American child to be part of the group, and literally within months, they had to move away quickly because a group of people turned on their pastor for allowing a black child into the group, but mostly, because they invited the child into their home.
Later he would be remembered as a beloved pastor of the church because he made the decision to challenge the establishment, and helped to usher in the civil rights movement into his community.
Before that, he was already a war hero. What he didn't talk about was the time he spent in the belly of the warship the USS Saratogo. One day, due to unusual clouds, he received the distress call of a group of men who's plane had been shot down nearly 5,000 miles away. The crew only had a crank radio and could only send distress messages occasionally because they had all been injured. Grant, during one of his long shifts, managed to hear the signal and they were rescued.
Later he would continue to send messages to allies and colleagues during a massive battle where the Saratoga was hit by seven kamikaze strikes. His wife would tell me after his death that he lived with PTSD most of his life after returning from the war. Remembering the sound of explosions as planes hit the deck, and knowing that he would not survive if the ship were to sink because the radio room was nestled deep within. She shared that she would sometimes find him hiding in the closet, trembling, and crying in the middle of the night. Grant would later suffer tremendous hearing loss from the explosions all around him.
I'm not sure if he ever really went back to either the USS Saratoga or the church that had once forced him to leave his home, that now recognized him as a beloved pastor.
Crosses along a highway, historical landmarks, and even signs announcing the birthplace of icons are common for us to see these days. They remind us that a significant event, or presence, took place here. As a child I remember the historical landmark sign near downtown Lebanon, Indiana, marking where Abraham Lincoln's funeral train stopped so that the community could come and pay their respects.
Jesus did not sit and ponder. Instead he pushed onward. Today I'm sure there must exist some probable study somewhere of what Jesus must have been thinking. The scriptures remain silent.
For us today, we recognize that when a major life change episode happens, there is bound to be a change in a person. Surviving a car wreck, or a violent relationship. Growing up in the projects and graduating with a PhD. All around people continue to find that these events don't necessarily paralyze people. They instead create a fire within.
In a few days we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. The day that the church remembers it's birth, where fire literally came down, and caused a change within. A strong desire to move forward from Jesus' death, and the resurrection. Soon Jesus would ascend one last time, and the power of the Holy Spirit would then take over, changing the lives of people everywhere for generations to come.
Little is said about anyone sitting back and staring at the streets leading to Calgary, the tomb where Jesus was kept, or the place where Jesus ascended. Like all things, they become memories that changed lives, and changed the world one person at a time.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2017
Dear Lord, help me each day to move forward, even when past events want to paralyze me. Help me to remember that even You knew difficult times. Thank You for Your presence in my life, and for walking valleys that are filled with darkness, to the tops of mountains where I can finally see where my next step will take me. Amen.
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.