Leaving Salem

My youngest son, Braden, has been asking me questions about Speedy. He is particularly interested when Speedy is coming home. Speedy, blessed be his name and God rest his soul, was our pet kitten. He went to be with Jesus last year.

I will not burden you with the details of his unfortunate demise. Let me just say that he was inappropriately named. Had he lived up to the namesake attached to him by my children, Speedy might still be with us today.

Having faced death innumerable times with grieving families, I have learned that it is best not to avoid the Reaper. So, our family had a memorial service for Speedy in the backyard. I laid him to rest in a small shoe box, in a hole dug at the edge of the woods. All three of our boys gave eulogies of sorts. My wife was there, in terrible grief (unknown to our children she was the one responsible for Speedy’s death); and I said a few prayers.

After placing flowers on the grave we went inside for ice cream. There’s no sadness a little Neapolitan won’t make a little better. And there around the kitchen table, I explained best I could about the after-life. I failed, because now, months later, Braden has all these questions. They machine-gun out of his mouth like ricocheting bullets.

Braden asks, “When is Speedy coming back?”

I respond, “Jesus will bring him back one day.”

“Where is Speedy now?” Braden asks.

“He’s in heaven, with Jesus,” I say.

“I thought he was in the shoe box under the dirt?” Braden remembers.

And then the bullets really start to fly: “Am I going to die? When I die will you put me in a shoe box? I don’t think I will fit. Will I be able to see if you put dirt on my head? How will I open my eyes in heaven with dirt on me? Will you and mom die? I don’t want you and mom to die – Who will cook my food for me.” On and on it goes.

I have little letters after my name that mean I spent some time in a classroom learning theology. These letters are supposed to mean I know something about God. Speak for very long with a cross-examining four-year-old, and you learn you don’t know squat, letters or no.

Death is a mystery. We pastoral-types don’t know as much about dying as we let on. But I suppose death is no greater a mystery than life. We don’t know as much about living as we let on either.

Yet, on this weekend, we celebrate both: Life and death. We celebrate the macabre crucifixion of our Lord, Jesus, who died on a cross on the paradoxically named Good Friday. And we celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.

“He is risen,” the angel said on that morning so many centuries ago. “He is risen, indeed” has been the response from believers, questioners, skeptics, and doubters ever since. Believers echo the traditional response because, well, they believe.

The questioners and the skeptics and the doubters whisper those words in return because they really want to believe. Yes, questioners, skeptics, and doubters sometimes doubt their doubts. They want to believe that there is a life beyond this one. They want to believe that existence continues beyond the grave.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t have to unravel every tangled ball of doubt about the resurrection and the here-after. I don’t have to be able to explain it all in neat little charts and precise diagrams complete with scriptural references.

I have the risen Christ alive in my heart. That is enough; for he will roll away the stone of disbelief and uncertainty. He will empty the grave of its terror and dread. He will set aside shoe boxes for the purpose of only holding shoes. And when he comes, he will answer all the questions of little boys and their fathers. He is risen. He is risen indeed.

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