The Blessed Hope

In 2011 a tsunami struck Japan and caused complete chaos and destruction. Entire towns were washed away, homes and business were destroyed, and in an instant, life was changed forever for many people. Over 16,000 people died, thousands of them just simply disappeared, never to be seen again….

One particular town, Otsuchi, was hit very hard. A man in Otsuchi named Itaru Sasaki wanted to do something to help those who were grieving their lost loved ones. He found an old telephone booth and placed it next to the ocean. Inside he put an old broken rotary telephone and a note pad. He invited people to come either alone or with family members to use the phone booth and say the things they so desperately wished they could say to their deceased. He called it “Kaze no Denwa” or “Telephone on the Wind.” His idea resonated with with tens of thousands of people and a new grief tradition was formed.

tv_episode_201605200600_02_largeThe phone on the wind. Otsuchi Japan

I heard about the Otsuchi Wind Telephone on a radio broadcast last week. A journalist set up a microphone to record some of the conversations that were happening in the booth. I listened as a father wept over his missing son, apologizing for not being able to save him. A son cried out to his dead mother, “Where are you? I miss you.” And a little girl who had not spoken about her father’s death in 5 years broke into heavy sobs once inside the booth. I was heartbroken, listening to the pain in their voices as they picked up a phone receiver to nowhere and spoke candidly to dead family members. For most of them as Buddhists, the only glimmer of hope was that maybe their voices would carry on the wind to a loved one. I wanted to reach through my radio and hug them and tell them it would be all right. I wanted to tell them about resurrection.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge believer in resurrection. I think resurrection is a foundational and fundamental Christian doctrine that the Western church has largely forgotten. Even for Christians, death seems so final, so complete. We’ve heard the Easter resurrection story, but that was all about Jesus. We don’t see the connection between Easter and our future. So we’ve settled for this idea of a far away, eternal spiritual realm. Our loved ones are gone forever, and the only way to reach them is to come to the end of our own lives so that we might join them in Eternity. For some of us, that means living life apart from those we love for a very long time, which is causes great sadness.

But the early believers had a very different outlook. Paul described what he called “The Blessed Hope,” a hope that separates our faith from all others. What is this hope? It is the appearing of our Lord Jesus and subsequent resurrection of the whole world. Titus 2:13 says, “Watch for His return; expect the blessed hope we all will share when our great God and Savior, Jesus the Anointed, appears again.”

And listen to 1 Corinthians 15:52-54,

“It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed! We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life. And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says: Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death.”

You see, we will receive our loved ones back from the grave. The lost sons will return. The daughters that were taken too soon will be brought back. The spouses who were parted at death will be reunited. Can you imagine the rejoicing, the tears of joy on that day? And no one knows when this will happen. Jesus says it will come like “a thief in the night.” This was what those early Christians looked for. They trusted in the faithfulness of Jesus to do what he promised when he said,

“I tell you the truth: a new day is imminent—in fact, it has arrived—when the voice of the Son of God will penetrate death’s domain, and everyone who hears will live…… If this sounds amazing to you, what is even more amazing is that when the time comes, those buried long ago will hear His voice through all the rocks, sod, and soil and step out of decay into resurrectionWhen this hour arrives, those who did good will be resurrected to life, and those who did evil will be resurrected to judgment.” John 5:25-29

As amazing as that sounds, I want to be very clear. Grief is a natural, healthy, and perfectly acceptable response to the death of a loved one. Even Jesus grieved the deaths of his cousin John and his friend Lazarus. Jesus felt sympathy for his mother as she grieved his impending death on the cross. But my prayer is that our grief might be infused with Hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to be fully informed about those who have fallen asleep in death so that you will not be overwhelmed with grief like those who live outside of the true hope.” Notice it doesn’t say that hope replaces grief, but that we shouldn’t grieve without hope. That kind of overwhelming grief leads to despair. I believe even a misplaced hope, that someday we will see our loved ones again in a disembodied eternity, can lead to unnecessary suffering. Easter is more powerful than an eternity in the spiritual realm. True hope is that at any moment, we might hear that trumpet, Jesus will appear, and we will see our loved ones again, in the flesh, just as Jesus was raised on Easter morning.

Jesus is faithful. He will return for us. He will overturn death and the grave. What if today is that day? May we continually watch in anticipation of the Blessed Hope.

Isaiah 61:3 God has sent me to give them a beautiful crown in exchange for ashes, to anoint them with gladness instead of sorrow, to wrap them in victory, joy, and praise instead of depression and sadness.

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