by Rod Hutchcraft
They were almost home, their spacecraft streaking across a deep blue sky, leaving behind its white plume trail. Then suddenly Shuttle Columbia fragmented into an unthinkable personal and national tragedy. And in a moment, six of America's best and brightest - along with an acclaimed Israeli hero - were gone.
The images of the Columbia tragedy will replay in our memories for a long time - the final waves of the orange-suited Columbia seven as they prepared to board - and that signature white trail marking the sky, sickeningly exploding into the multiple trails of a shuttle that was no more.
As America's Commander-in-Chief was once again called upon to be our Comforter-in-Chief, he turned to the centuries-tested comfort of the Scriptures - and talked about the men and women of Columbia "going home." It was these words from the prophet Isaiah that President Bush turned to in this heart-wrenching moment of national grief and loss:
"Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens; Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." (Isaiah 40:26)
With his eyes glistening, the President then said: "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth but we can pray they are safely home." It is a moving thought - that the shuttle may have taken crew members from "almost home" to really, really Home.
The headline in the Amarillo, Texas newspaper said of native son and Columbia commander, Rick Husband, "Amarillo Hero Called Home." It is a call that every one of us will receive, perhaps as unexpectedly as Rick Husband and his crew. Today's obituary page is another reminder that for any of us, the journey can end at any time. So the Bible cautions us not to "boast about tomorrow" because we "do not know what a day may bring forth." (Proverbs 27:1) It's important to know we'll be "safely Home" on the other side - when we meet the One that Isaiah describes as He who "sits enthroned above the circle of the earth." (Isaiah 40:22)
In the last hours before His own violent death, Jesus Christ told His followers that He was going to His "Father's house" to "prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me..." (John 14:2-3) That prompted a desire on the part of His friends to know how to get to this eternal Home - one of them asked, "How can we know the way?"
Jesus' answer was simple and shocking - "I am the way and the truth and
the life." (John 14:6) According to Jesus, the "way" to get Home isn't a religion or a morality or a list of qualifying good works. He said the "way" is a Person - "I am the way."
The Bible explains that although most of us want to - even expect to - end
up in heaven when we die, not all of us will make it Home. In describing the unlimited life of heaven, the Bible cautions that "nothing impure will ever enter it nor will anyone who does what is shameful and deceitful." (Revelation 21:27) My first reaction is to think of all the people who are much more "impure," "shameful," and "deceitful" than I am. But I'm stopped short in exempting myself by God's sobering verdict that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
Quite simply, we will never make it Home unless we can find a way to lose
the lifetime of sin-baggage we all have. Biblically, sin is so much more than breaking some religious rules or a few gross actions - it is our rebellion against the God who gave us our life in the first place. It's you and me choosing to do our life our way instead of God's way. That choice has left us with every reason to be afraid of death - because what awaits us at flight's end is the awful penalty for hijacking our life from our Creator. And yet the sister of Columbia payload commander, Michael Anderson, could say, "In those last moments, he would not have been afraid to die. He had made his peace with God."
In a cable news interview, a friend of Rick Husband and Michael Anderson, said that they had no fear of death because "their personal foundation was their personal relationship with Jesus Christ." The One who said He was the way Home - because, as He explained, He had come here to "give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The Bible describes the unspeakable price Jesus paid to remove the sins that keep us out of heaven - "Christ died for our sins ... the righteous (that's Him) for the unrighteous (that's us), to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:18)
The way Home passes by an old wooden cross - where Jesus paid the price to get us Home. He is the security that survives every loss. Speaking of Rick Husband's widow, a NASA official said, "I know Evelyn takes tremendous comfort in knowing Rick is with his Lord." There is no greater peace in all the world than knowing that you are ready for eternity, whenever it comes. That every wrong thing you've ever done has been erased from God's records forever. That you now belong to the One who "brings out the starry host one by one and calls them all by name."
And the Bible explains the point at which you can pass spiritually "from death to life" (John 5:24) - it says, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) That's "believe" as in putting your total trust in Jesus as your only hope of being forgiven, your only hope of getting into God's heaven. He died to take you there - but you have to give yourself to Him. Which you can do by simply telling Him, "Jesus, I'm sorry for my sin and I resign running my own life. You died for me - I'm Yours from this moment on." It's a life-changing commitment - and a life-giving moment. Eternal life.
None of us knows how much longer our personal flight will last. We can know that whenever and however it ends, we're ready. We're forgiven. Our debt with God is gone. Which means that when you've had your last moment on earth, it will simply mean that you're Home. Safely home.