Death is a miserable business. It takes us away from all that we cherish in this beautiful world that God has made. And though for the believer it may only represent a momentary transition into something more satisfying than we can imagine, it still has to be faced and tackled.
Crossing the Jordan is a common metaphor found in Christian hymns and literature that refers to our transition from death to life, from this world to the next. It’s grounded in the historical account of the people of Israel crossing the Jordan River and entering the promised land.
Well I looked up over Jordan and what did I see?
Coming for to carry me home.
I saw a band of angels, coming after me.
Coming for to carry me home…
Swing low, sweet chariot…
Reminiscent of Israel’s flight from Egypt and their crossing the Red Sea on dry land while Egypt’s army was swamped by the waves, and, just as Noah sailing across the flood and Elijah being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, Israel’s crossing the Jordan pictured the people of God being taken safely to a new world.
I have watched many people die. Some were shaking their fists in fear and anger as the waves rolled over their bow. Others, like Nelly, had a composure and inner peace that is hard to describe. She was neither looking forward in dread nor back in regret. Let me tell you about Nelly.
Nelly was an old woman with silver hair and bright blue eyes. She was a small, petite lady. Despite the fact she was dying of cancer, she got out of bed every morning, washed her face, combed her hair, put on a pretty dress and her earrings.
She dressed as though she was going out somewhere, to meet someone.
When we talked, we talked about God and His creation—a subject of special interest to her—and not much else. The only time we ever discussed the afterlife was when I had asked her if she was afraid to die. She simply answered, “No, not really.”
The last time I saw her she was sitting by her bedroom window wearing a softly-coloured dress covered in little flowers. We sat there together for a long time, watching the leaves fade into a blue-grey mist as the sun vanished beneath the hills.
There were no plans to be made, no fears to be expressed, no talk of death. There were just two people, filled with gratitude for the beauty of God’s handiwork – and some apple juice.
“You know, David,” she said, turning her gaze from me to look once more at the splendour outside, “I never knew apple juice could taste so sweet.”
She lifted the juice to her lips one last time. Shortly after, the chariots of God came and carried her little body to the Promised Land, there to await her glorious resurrection from the dead.
For those with faith, the apple juice tastes sweet, and all the sweeter as that bitter day approaches. Less terror, less fear, more composure, more faith, more rest, more patience, more thankfulness.
That is not to say that the believer doesn’t have their share of battles. We are not immune to the fears within and conflicts without (2 Corinthians 7:5). But the God of all comfort is there, ready to steady our souls and keep us from the waves that would otherwise swamp our little canoe.
Nelly sailed across the Jordan – grateful for apple juice. It’s the way I hope to cross the rippling sea when my day comes.
Her secret? Not really a secret at all. You see, Nelly had not waited until the day of disaster to try and find her composure. Her composure was the result of a life of faith and gratitude toward God in the little things. And so, When the big thing came, Nelly was able to hold onto the rails with a smile.