Molly and I watched last week-end the funeral service of Barbara Bush. Every once in a while a public family in America leads the nation in a solemn memorial to a beloved member of their family. And each time, the American people are brought back to the first things of the faith. The great scriptures are read. Mighty music is played. A message of Christian faith is proclaimed. The words of Jesus are spoken loud and clear.
Sometimes grandchildren read scripture, wearing their black dresses and probably uncomfortable dark suits. Perhaps a riderless horse, with boots strapped into the stirrups in reverse, is led in the long cortege.
We had it only weeks ago with the service for "America's Pastor," Dr. Billy Graham. We had it in 1963 following the assassination of America's young president. And then again the moving service for a feisty, beloved First Lady, who had told her son she believed in Jesus and was ready to go to Him in Heaven, and to be reunited there with precious people she had lost in life.
The wonder of television allows the nation to be in the church in Houston, or the Graham Center in North Carolina, or the National Cathedral in Washington.
We may be going secular as a country. We may be losing, and failing to live by the "faith of our Fathers." But, when death comes to people of faith, great truths are lifted up for all to see, and simple words of Truth echo again across the land, and in our hearts. And we are taught, not by priests and pastors, but by families of faith, that Jesus lives, and inhabits the hearts of those who still follow Him. And the nation's faith is re-awakened, and many are touched by truth again and stirred again to walk the high road with Jesus and His millions of followers across the earth.
But of course, these people who die nobly, in faith, have for the most part, lived courageously in life. At the time of their death we learn wonderful and winsome things about their lives. As leaders among us they have provoked controversy, they have taken risks, they have tried to do "the right thing" despite criticism and rejection.
Barbara Bush said what she felt, and a whole wide family loved her. Billy Graham preached Good News about God's love, and our need to come Home to God. Many are those of faith among us who today "take up their cross," and follow Jesus.
In life and in death, these people, our fellow Americans, teach us the ways of dignity, of humble faith, of courageous living. They remind us of the good things of life, which are the same things Jesus has taught us.
In life and in death, we are called to eternal things, to the great joy in living, and to what true life is all about. What wonderful opportunities we have, to learn from our fellow travelers, the ways to live this high adventure.
I saw a piece from Fox News this early April, that raised the call again, for redemption, for a second chance for the nearly 2.3 million Americans imprisoned in our country. It was lifted by a Christian minister who is an adviser to a group called, "Safe Streets and Second Chances." It echoes the historic Quaker concern for human redemption in what they called, "penitentiaries."
Pastor Paula White-Cain of Orlando, Florida, pleads that "prisons should offer an opportunity for prisoners to reflect on their sins, reform their ways and re-enter society as productive citizens." "But," she says, "our criminal justice system overwhelmingly fails at this crucial task. Two-thirds of offenders are re-arrested within just three years after their release."
"A criminal justice system," she goes on, "that prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation is fundamentally at odds with a faith that preaches forgiveness and redemption." She calls for Christians, with their 2,000 years of experience helping people find redemption, to once again step forward and help.
Then she tells the story of a 21-year-old young man "shoveling cow manure on a Nebraska farm," was tempted by a friend to rob banks for easy money. They did, and he was caught, and was in Federal Prison for 11 years. "Small graces," she said, "gradually awakened his faith. He took a job in the prison law library, where he began to read and teach himself the Law. He eventually became a 'jailhouse lawyer,' taking on the cases of his fellow prisoners... two of his petitions were granted by the U.S. Supreme Court."
People in his life did not give up on the young man. An old girlfriend wrote him letters and became close to him. His parents prayed for him and sent him Christian books.
He married Annie and they were baptized together. "Surrendering to God's grace was, "he said, "the most important decision of my life."
Upon release in 2009, he got a job helping attorneys with their Supreme Court briefs. He went to law school and is now a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
His amazing story points to what offenders can do with their lives if given a second chance, by friends, family, employers, the community, and by the power of a true faith in God.
It's a touching, true story of what can and needs to be happening in lives that often among us are condemned - in the name of justice.
These are angry days, of much shouting, and a spirit of vengeance. There are ways - given by God - for healing to happen in our society, and new life to come miraculously into our midst.
Written on Thursday, March 22:
I sit alone in the back space--"the library"--of Starbuck's. It's Thursday, of the week before Holy Week. A big day for me. First, across the street, at the Hilltop Restaurant, gathering in the dark, with the little company of friends who choose to make the journey with me, of "The Long Road to Glory."
It was a high time. Our last time together in this season of preparing our hearts for the mystical mighty WEEK THAT WAS. The most significant week in all the world's history when Jesus, Christ the King, rode into Jerusalem, to claim His city. The kingdom place where God's greatest act would take place, through His act of experiencing the rejection of His own, with the forces of church and state mounting against Him, and bringing Him to trial in Pilate's court, and the condemnation to die -- by crucifixion.
Such a strange week. And we re-live it, over and over, year after year, as each time, it pierces our heart, as we stand there, with the crowd, and watch it happen, let it happen, make it happen.
And He dies, for us. The Lord of love--God's son--dies for us. To forgive us. To finally, win us.
Beyond that is the new day, the first day of the new week, the dawn day, the Resurrection day, the great Victory Day of the burst tomb and the coming back - alive - of Jesus saying "Mary." Speaking our Name. Stunning us with the reality of what God had done.
I just say be ready, friend. Open your heart. Hear the words. Dare to come to the Upper Room, to Calvary's Hill, to the empty tomb. Let your life be touched - deeply - by the greatest reality of the world.
God love you in this wonderful Week That Was.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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