Updated: Jun 26, 2021
My Monday took an unexpected turn when I received an urgent phone call to come and help a very good friend. He passed out while driving. But when I got to his vehicle it was too late. He was gone.
Or was he?
I looked at his very pale face, gaping mouth and dilated pupils and instead of sorrow and horror, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. The scene was surreal around that vehicle. Shock, unbelief and sobs from his co-workers when I told them. I had just lost a good, loyal, unassuming friend … probably one of the best I’ve ever had. And I was at peace? I felt joy? I had an overwhelming sense of his presence still with me and I think I may have felt his joy.
The "cloud of witnesses" of Hebr 12:1.
"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
What does that really mean? Could my friend be in that cloud now? Was there a seat reserved for him in the stands amongst those who are watching this incredible drama we call "life" unfolding? Has he been called to a higher duty - maybe to support and watch and pray for us who are still here, blind to whatever surrounds us? One thing I know - he is not blind anymore, his eyes are open and he can see into both realms. He was such a servant ... maybe he is now serving us who are left behind. Maybe he is Jesus' handyman.
I have learnt to live with the questions.
Elisha and the Syrian army.
I think about the prophet Elisha who was woken up by his shouting young servant: “Master we are in trouble, it is over for us! Come look, there is an army of Syrians surrounding us. Oh my oh my , where shall we run?”
Elisha got up, looked outside at the army that was sent to take him prisoner and simply said, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
It is clear that Elisha was given a gift of sight at that moment. He saw things that nobody else could see. The army was real to his servant and to him but Elisha saw another army surrounding the Syrians. Like the great cloud of witnesses perhaps? Like massive eternal pavilions around this earthly realm from where those who have gone before us can cheer us on, help us to also complete our journey?
Jesus and some of his disciples experienced this also on the “Mount of Transfiguration” where Elijah and Moses appeared and spoke at length to Jesus about the agony of the cross and the ecstasy of the resurrection. They were so real that old Peter wanted to build huts so that they could sleep over. Peter also did not understand, because he could not see beyond this realm.
Please open their eyes!
At the end of his life, Jesus prayed for his disciples and for us. In the seventeenth chapter of his gospel, John recorded that Jesus prayed something like this: “Father, you have given me these people and I don’t pray that you would take them out of this world. But I pray that you will sanctify their sight by the truth, in the same way that I sanctified myself by the truth. And not only these ones but all those who will believe in me in future.
They are in the world just as I am in the world and as you have sent me on a mission, so have I sent them. But they are not seeing. Father, they are not in contact with the reality of the glory that is around them and in them.
I desire that you would open their eyes that they also might see what I see so that they may see the glory that is in me, the glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. That they may see the glory in themselves that I had given them, for my glory is in them. That they may see and know that I am in them and they are in me and I am in you that they may be made perfect as one … that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.
Father, the world does not know you but I know you. I have seen you. You have opened my eyes when I sanctified myself through the things I have suffered and I have declared all I know about you to the people around me. But still they don’t see. But, if you would open their eyes ....”
(John 17 ... my paraphrase. But remember that John wrote this down about 60 years after the fact and that he had had no recording to work from, so his rendering may also have been a paraphrase).
Elisha also prayed hundreds of years before Jesus, and said, “"LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings6)
Mirrors and images
On Wednesday mornings I leave before dawn to travel hundred and fifty kilometres to work. I sit in the kitchen having my coffee while the light outside is slowly increasing. At the beginning of the cup of coffee, I can only see my reflection in the window across from me. Slowly, my own reflection fades and the plants outside become visible. We have a dimmer switch and I have often dimmed the light inside. When the light inside dims or the light outside increases, I can see through the reflection of me and see the rising dawn outside.
I think this is what Jesus and Elisha prayed for. They knew what those around them did not know. That the light of self and of fear and of entitlement has to fade so that we can stop seeing only the image of me and start to see the purpose of God through the two-way mirror which veils the realm that surrounds us.
So that I can realise that I am not the center of the universe; that heaven or hell is not about me; that the suffering and agony and the glory and ecstasy of this life is not about me; that there is a greater purpose for each one who has been privileged to incarnate God in this very constricted realm.
The Book says that one day the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall fill the earth like the waters cover the sea”. That means that the glory is already here, we just don’t know about it. All new knowledge comes from new understanding and all new understanding comes from an ability to see existing teaching and circumstances and traditions and beliefs in a new light. Our own light is forever changing as we dim our self image and look for the dawn of new understanding outside of existing barriers.
What happened to me on Monday?
I think I was given a gift of sight in the cramped space of the bakkie on Monday. For a moment I saw through the two-way mirror of me and my loss and I saw that this is not the end. That the pain can be a gateway. That death is always grace. That all things belong and that my friend is now even more one with me and with his loved ones than before. That the glory of the Lord is rising in the midst of the gaping wound of death and loneliness and suffering that this self-centered realm often represents to those who cannot see.
And I hear him cheering in the stands with millions of others whose eyes were finally opened through death.