Happy Easter from our house to yours! We could all use a dose of faith, and Easter Sunday is a great day to get one. If you’re struggling with trusting God, even in the face of significant loss, this message is for you.
It’s been almost five months since we took this picture of me and my six kids, not knowing that just two weeks later my wife Lana would pass on to be with the Lord (she was inside resting when this picture was taken, as we were in the middle of a 10-hour filming session for a project to give hope to families facing loss). Since that day, we’ve had to celebrate seven major holidays without our beloved Lana: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, two birthdays, and now Easter. Each of these “firsts” without her this year could have easily overwhelmed me with grief if it weren’t for my faith in Jesus Christ and the prayers of people like you.
But when Christmas rolled around, God reminded me why we celebrate the holiday at all: Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the baby who would one day defeat death forever! While celebrating Christmas was still hard without Lana, God’s reminder of the reason we were celebrating helped me keep a balanced perspective on her life and death…and her new life with Him.
The same holds true for Easter. While there’s no doubt it’s been hard to go through our Easter traditions this year without Lana, God keeps reminding me of the purpose of this holiday, too. Easter is the day we remember that Jesus rose from the dead, and because He rose from the dead, we can be assured that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead, too, including my dear wife Lana. Without Lana here with me this week, it’s already been a different kind of holiday. I found myself videotaping the kids during an Easter egg hunt so that I could come home and show her the tape, only to remember that she wouldn’t be home when I got there. But then God reminded me that it’s quite likely that Lana’s not missing a thing. The Bible says that “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” witnesses who have kept their faith to the end, and remind us to do the same:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
As sad as it is that I’m having to celebrate Easter without Lana here with me in the flesh, the truth is that without Jesus, there would be no holiday to celebrate at all, and there would be no hope of Lana being raised from the dead either. So in the midst of my heartache, God keeps reminding me of the whole truth: not just the truth that she’s gone, but the truth that she’s gone to be with Jesus, and has been raised to a new life in spectacular glory. And having that whole truth in mind brings His peace to my heart. As the Bible says:
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
We do have hope. True hope. Not a desperate clinging to the mere idea that maybe there’s some kind of life after this life, but a firm faith in the reality that there really is a heaven, and that Jesus is really there, with my beloved Lana right alongside Him.
I don’t want to try to prove to you today that Jesus rose from the dead, but I would like to remind you of the fact that He did rise from the dead and that His resurrection was witnessed by many here on earth. Not only that, but there were others in the Bible who were once dead who were resurrected to new life, as well, and even they have appeared to people here on earth, too!
As for Jesus’ resurrection, and His appearance to people on earth, listen to some of these verses from the Bible:
“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons” (Mark 16:9).
“Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country” (Mark 16:12).
“Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14).
“Afterward, Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1).
“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:14).
“After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me [Paul]…” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8a).
What’s even more amazing to me, since Lana passed on to be with Jesus, is that I keep reading verses that I’ve read before, but that strike me now in a new light: that Jesus wasn’t the only one who died and rose again and appeared to people here on earth. Listen to this!
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matthew 27:50-53).
Not only had Jesus been raised from the dead, but many others had also been raised as well who appeared to many people in Jerusalem. Even Peter, James and John saw people raised from the dead while Jesus was still living, when they saw Moses and Elijah standing on the mountaintop, talking with Jesus:
“After six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:1-3).
Moses and Elijah were so real to Peter that Peter asked Jesus if he should build a shelter for each one of them, even though they had been dead for thousands of years! It was a reminder to them, and to me, that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, as Jesus once told the Saducees, the religious leaders who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus said:
“Now about the dead rising–have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:26-28).
I share all this as a preface to what I’m about to share next. As with some of the other stories I’ve shared with you recently, I do so with hesitancy as I don’t want you to think I’ve lost my mind. I’m also not sure what to think of them myself, for I realize I’m still in the midst of grief, and perhaps the grief is clouding how I think and see spiritual things right now. Then again, perhaps it’s during our most difficult times, when we’re apt to be the closest to God, that we’re best able to see what’s really true!
On New Year’s Eve, I was praying on my knees during a time of worship at a large Christian conference, celebrating the New Year with over 20,000 other believers. As I knelt there on the floor, I felt as if Lana were leaning down next to me. She whispered in my ear, as she had done many times before in life: “I love you, Eric Elder.” Her voice was as clear and soft and sweet as any time I’d ever heard her say that to me before. I could almost feel her breath on the side of my face.
The next night I felt her presence again, this time as I lay in bed. I wrote in my journal the following morning:
“Father, thank You for Lana’s love for me and mine for her. I miss her Lord. But how can I be anything but grateful to You for giving her to me to be my wife for so many years. This morning I woke up and literally felt her arms around me and heard her voice talking to me. I couldn’t move for several minutes, it was so real, her touch and her words. I even thought I saw her when I turned my head. Thank You, Lord, for her continued presence, even if it is in my dreams, or in that state between dreams and wakefulness. Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”
I’ve reached up to heaven many times in the last few months and have taken hold of Lana’s arm, only to find the arm of Jesus taking hold of both of us, as He promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us. He promised us that death would not separate us, for we had put our faith in Him. He promised us that we would live forever, not just at the end of time, but right now, in abundant life.
As Jesus told Martha in the Bible, after her brother Lazarus died:
“Your brother will be raised up.”
To which Martha replied:
“I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”
To which Jesus replied:
“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in Me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in Me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23-26, MSG).
Martha said she believed it. Lana said she believed it. And I can say I believe it, too.
As I shared at the celebration of Lana’s life back in November, a good friend of mine sent me this text that helped me to see the reality of Lana’s new life in heaven:
“It is so hard to be in this place, but it is good to know Lana is seeing our Father and Jesus face to face. She is touching them and hearing their voices, and talking to them about anything and everything she wants to. Somehow you, because you are one, are part of that. It takes my breath away.”
When I think about it, really think about it, it takes my breath away, too.
This is the great hope that we have in the resurrection, not only that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead as well.
As Jonathan Edwards, the great evangelist, said at the funeral of David Brainerd, the great missionary: “True saints, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord” (quoting the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8).
As Jesus Himself said to the thief on the cross who was dying next to Him and who had just put his faith in Jesus:
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Jesus really did rise from the dead. And those who put their faith in Him really will rise from the dead, too.
If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, let me encourage you, as Lana would encourage you, as Jesus Himself encouraged you: put your faith in Jesus Christ today. Believe that He died for your sins. Believe that He’s forgiven you of your sins. And believe that He will raise you to begin a new life with Him, starting right now and forever. As the Bible says:
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
As we close, let me share one more picture with you. This is one that we took later on the same day as the picture above, when Lana came out to join us again for the filming session. Although her body was weak, her spirit was as strong as ever.
At Christmastime I had a hard time deciding which picture to send out with our Christmas letters. I couldn’t imagine sending out a Christmas picture from now on without Lana in it. But when I looked at the picture of just me and the kids, I couldn’t help but be thankful for all the blessings I have in my life because Lana’s been a part of it. So I eventually decided to send out both.
I share these two pictures today because they remind me that I have a choice to make every day. I can either look at what I’ve lost and be sad, or I can look at what I’ve been given because Lana’s been a part of my life, and be glad. It’s the same choice we all have to make, every day.
It’s not a matter of looking at the glass as half-full or half-empty, but trusting God that He will provide us with just what we need when we need it. Zig Ziglar says He teaches advanced math when he says:
You + God = Enough
As the Bible says:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).
The last few weeks of Lana’s life she was still helping me edit a book that we had been working on together on the life of Saint Nicholas. After Lana died, I looked at the edits she had made in the margins of the book. I used a quote in the book that others have used before that says:
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it was beautiful.”
In the margin of the book, Lana had written: “Amen!”
It was another reminder to me that we really are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” including Lana, who are cheering us on.
Yes, I still cry. But I can smile, too. That’s the great hope we have because of the resurrection.
I pray the Lord will bless you richly this Easter and in the days ahead. He really has risen! He has risen indeed!