Iona Henry was happily married to her husband, Peter. They had two beautiful children: Jane, 14, and Jack, 10. The family was actively involved in the community and in their church. Life to them was like a song at summer’s dawn. Then young Jane is diagnosed as having a brain tumor and, after weeks of desperate efforts to save her life and long vigils at her bedside, she dies.
Now there are three. Unable to shake their inconsolable grief, Peter, Iona and Jack leave on a long trip by car to visit Iona’s parents. They drive in silence, hardly noticing the passing scenery. Certainly no one saw the train bearing on them at the grade crossing. Peter and young Jack are killed instantly in the fiery collision, and Iona is hospitalized for weeks. Now there is only one!
Iona’s crushed body mends, but her crushed spirit does not heal. She wants more than anything else to die, and she withdraws into a world of silence, pain, despair and loneliness. She tells of the desperate day when she planned to end her own life and how, in that final moment before she acted, she heard a voice calling her name, “Iona! Iona! Iona!”
Love broke the silence of her world! She know that it was God calling her. Life began to take precedence over her sorrow; she recovered, and then offered herself to help others who faced similar darkness and despair.
And I think of how the late John Ritter, the actor, told of the time he went home to Nashville to visit his parents, from whom he had been alienated for some time. He was riding in the car with his father, and the silence and tension between them was so thick you could touch it, Ritter says. Glancing at his father, John could not stand it any longer and, summoning words that were difficult to speak, he said, “Dad, I came home to thank you for being my father. I think you are the greatest man I ever met. And I love you.”
A smile slowly spread over Tex Ritter’s face. He pulled the car to the curb, turned to his son, put his arm around John’s shoulders, and pulled him close, as he said, “And I love you, John! Thanks for coming home!” The silence of estrangement was broken and ended in an embrace.
Yes, love breaks the silences that surround the “border moments” of life as God calls our name; and we are blessed with the assurance deeper than any knowing that no night lasts forever, that the light shines in the darkness – no matter how thick and impenetrable it seems – and the darkness has not overcome it, and cannot overcome it.
And that is the abiding promise we celebrate this Easter Day. We are never alone, regardless of how remote we may feel, no matter how isolating and debilitating our pain and fear may be, no matter how coldly indifferent the world treats or impugns us in our struggle.
Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, we can never be sure where or when God will call our name, or to what lengths God will go to reach us, to break the silence and to reveal just how much we are loved. This means that we can face and claim the future, we will meet Jesus, experience God’s grace, and walk on with joy. Even the most desperate situations are not without hope, and even the heaviest of burdens we can bear. We can survive, we can pick up the pieces, we can go home, and we can begin again!
We not only can survive, we can also thrive in the awareness of Christ’s presence with us and in the awareness that we have love when all else goes. Love is stronger than death and has eternal possibilities. The world may crucify love and do us to death, but God reserves to Himself what death does to love and to us.
As one writer put it:
Eternity does not begin after time ends; It happens within time. Resurrection does not occur at our physical death, but happens when human reality is transfigured, when we grow on to become the person God created us to be, and all things are made new, and existence ceases to be a problem and becomes a holy mystery.
When we know such resurrection, death itself no longer holds any terror for us. We are made free to be fully alive, taking the risks of love and loss. We can live as those who are prepared to die, so that when death comes, we can die as those who go forth to live.
Out of the earthquake disaster that struck the San Francisco area some years ago, have come many stories of heroism, some recorded and many unrecorded. One is the story of a San Francisco firefighter who crawled into a collapsed building in the Marina District to see if there were any survivors. As he crawled into the rubble, his fellow firefighters yelled at him to get out before the structure exploded and caught fire; but he kept crawling.
In the eerie silence of the place, the firefighter was sure he heard moaning. Soon the sound became more distinct and he crawled in the direction from which it came. Then he found her–a woman who was trapped. He broke the silence as he said, “I’m here! We will get you out.” She said to him, “ Don’t leave me.” He replied, “ Don’t worry. I won’t leave you.” And as they waited for the rescue equipment to come, he held her hand, asked her name, and she asked his. Then they talked about family and the future.
At Easter, God calls our name and, in love, breaks the silence that surrounds us. In raising Christ, God promised He will never leave us. God tells us His name in love and gives us a future in which God will never let us go. Alleluia!
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.