Little Kennedy Buettner, a four-year-old, went to a pool party and ended up at the bottom of the pool, in spite of the fact that there were more than 40 people in the pool at the time. A team of 9- and 10-year old boys managed to pull him off the bottom of the pool but he was non-responsive. He had been in the water long enough that his prognosis was poor. His parents, who rushed to the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama to be at his bedside, were told that he would likely have severe brain damage, if, in fact, he survived. Kennedy’s family and church began to pray. Amazingly, he not only lived, he began to show some signs of improvement. Two days after the near-drowning, he began fighting with the tube down his throat. Then he began squeezing their hands on command and prompted tears of joy when he gave them a thumbs-up! His mother felt prompted to read a portion of Psalm 18 during that precarious time of waiting: “God reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Exactly one week after the accident, Kennedy was released from the Hospital. While this was a miracle in and of itself, his mother learned more as she talked with him in the weeks afterwards. She asked him, “You were asleep for a long time, I have been missing you. What did you do?” He answered, “An angel picked me up and we flew. We flew through walls, clouds, and I flew through you, Mommy.” She asked him what the angel looked like, and he told her the angel had long white clothes. Kennedy told her they flew to heaven and that there was a door with jewels all around it and “when they opened that door, it was snowing in there.” His mother was careful not to put words in his mouth. He told her that he had seen his recently deceased uncle in heaven, and that he looked “just like Jesus, and all his boo-boos were gone.” He told his mother that Mark was happy and that he wanted to stay in heaven. Kennedy told her further that Jesus held him and that there were a lot of angels. She asked him continually if he was ever afraid. He said, “No, I was with Jesus and Uncle Mark, and I was standing on glass; I was invisible.” When asked how he got back he told her that Uncle Mark gave him a push and an angel flew him back. His mother asked Kennedy if he would like to go back to heaven again, and he said, “Yes, but Jesus is coming here.”
Two weeks before, Kennedy was a little boy who would have gotten upset if you discussed death and going to heaven with him. Now he was a boy who told of seeing Jesus and being in heaven with excitement and joy. The effect of his words is to have emboldened his family to shout aloud the good news of what God did for their little boy and the assurance they now have confirmed of what awaits us when we leave this world.
The apostle John shared a story of similar conviction in his first letter. He affirmed what he and the others had witnessed personally: that Jesus had died and resurrected and promised them an eternal life with Him in a place free of sorrows and pain. Those who saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion courageously spoke of His resurrection and risked their lives to proclaim to a doubting world that He was the long-awaited Messiah.
We struggle to keep the good news of the resurrection central to who we are. Easter is in our rearview mirror before we’ve finished our Cadbury egg and laundered our fine Easter outfits! So we have to continue to look for the ways that Christ appears among us and assures us that His claims are true. It is our responsibility as the Church to share that news, no matter the risk, no matter the doubt, so that others can find their way to Him.
The beloved preacher Fred Craddock tells the story of his unbelieving father:
“My mother took us to church and Sunday school; my father didn’t go. He complained about Sunday dinner being late when she came home. Sometimes the preacher would call, and my father would say, ‘I know what the church wants. Church doesn’t care about me. Church wants another name, another pledge, right?’ Sometimes we’d have a revival. Pastor would bring the evangelist and say to the evangelist, ‘There’s one now, sic him, get him, get him,’ and my father would say the same thing. Every time, my mother in the kitchen, always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers, of somebody being hurt. And always my father said, ‘The church doesn’t care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge.’ I guess I heard it a thousand times.
One time he didn’t say it. He was in the veteran’s hospital, and he was down to seventy-three pounds. They’d taken out his throat, and said, ‘It’s too late.’ They put in a metal tube, and X rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat. I looked around the room, potted plants and cut flowers on all the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed. And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower. And all the flowers beside the bed, every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups from the church. He saw me read a card. He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell you this story. He wrote: ’In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.’ I said, ‘What is your story, Daddy?’ And he wrote, ‘I was wrong.’”
Just as John had to tell the news of the resurrected Jesus to a doubting world, we are called to live and speak in such a way that people meet Jesus in us. They find hope in our cards, kindness in our words, self-sacrifice in our deeds. And this isn’t just for the people we know and like. It’s for those God places before us who carry a grudge, whose nose is out of joint, who have a chip on their shoulder and only angry words for God. Particularly for these people we carry the message of the resurrected Christ.
After my mother died of cancer at age 66 my dad said, “If someone had asked me a year ago whether I would want to die suddenly or in a long drawn-out process like cancer, I would have said a sudden death, without hesitation. But, now I think I would choose the other. I would not trade the last nine months your mother and I had together for anything. In dealing with life and death issues we were closer than ever before.” When cancer comes calling, we draw on our resurrection hope. When death takes someone home, especially at an age we deem as being young, we cling to the promises that Jesus is waiting (and other loved ones as well) to carry them into an eternal life that knows no suffering or loss. The news of the resurrection must be on our lips for all people, all of the time.