Got Anything to Stop This Coffin?
I've lived in the foothills of the Appalachians for the last twenty years. It is a land of hills and "hollers" (hollows). The culture is rich with local legends and true stories of moonshining, the Cornbread Mafia, and family feuds, of which the Hatfield/McCoy is the most notable, but not necessarily the most entertaining. One of the local stories I heard was told to me by a congregation member who is a lifetime resident of Kentucky.
The events occurred a couple of decades ago. A tough old-timer called Crawdad passed away in an adjacent county. He'd had quite a colorful life, and he passed away on one of the coldest days of winter. In fact, the snow was a couple of feet deep, which made travel for the funeral and burial treacherous. Everyone's fears were realized when the hearse could not navigate the mountain up to the family cemetery. The hearse merely spun its tires on the snow-covered dirt road. Someone volunteered a four-wheel drive pickup truck, and the coffin was loaded into the bed and secured.
Unfortunately, even the four-wheel drive only made it about ¾ of the way up the road before it, too, could go no farther up what was little more than a logging road. Old-timers and young relatives alike stood around for awhile, shivering and debating why old Crawdad had managed to die in the coldest winter in a decade. Some insisted he was so mean, he'd done it on purpose. Finally one of the old-timers who had some history with Crawdad spoke up and offered take the coffin up on his logging sled, which was drawn the old-fashioned way, with a team of mules. Everyone could walk behind the sled on the packed snow.
This seemed like the only solution, so the team of mules was harnessed and hitched to the sled, and the mule team pulled the sled to the four-wheel drive, and old Crawdad was transferred to the sled and tied down securely. The funeral party continued up the mountain, and with only one steep incline left, everyone was breathing a sigh of relief. The cemetery was in sight, a family plot so old that many of the older markers were merely rocks wedged into the ground.
As the mules dug in to pull the sled up that last steep slope, the sled hung on a rock, and the mules squatted into their harnesses, pulling hard. The fastener that held the chain to the sled snapped, and the sled began sliding backward down the road. The funeral party scattered left and right, and many barely avoided being mowed down by the runaway sled...still loaded with old Crawdad in his coffin. The coffin gained speed down the mountain road while everyone looked on. Faster and faster it flew, approaching the highway below.
Everyone watched in disbelief as the sled launched over the narrow highway toward a small group of shops on the other side. The coffin crashed through the plate glass window of a pharmacy and flipped up on its end in front of the pharmacy counter. The lid swung open as the wooden casket shivered to a stop. The aging pharmacist peered over his glasses at Old Crawdad, who was now upright. "Can I help you?" he inquired. "Yeah," said Crawdad. "You got anything to stop this coughin'?"
Okay, so that was a little Appalachian fun. I don't tell it as well as the locals. There's a similar point, though, that the Torah portion Chayei Sarah teaches.
Although the Torah portion is titled the "Life of Sarah," the portion begins with details of Sarah's death and burial. None of us can stop that coffin. What is concealed within the death and burial, however, is the life of Sarah. Her life was prophetic, and it still proclaims prophecies of Messiah and Israel. The breaking of Sarah's earthen vessel was not isolated to her death; Sarah lived a life of testing and sacrifice just as Abraham. Sarah did not enjoy the breaking of her nefesh (soul: appetites, emotions, desires, and intellect), but who does? Nevertheless, she persisted in faith, and she learned not to stop the coffin. For someone walking in faith, the coffin or grave is merely the final one on a journey of many!
Before the son of promise Isaac could be born, Sarah had to face the thing she feared the most: her barrenness. It wasn't a one-failure to mourn, but a month-after-month lifetime of bad news that contradicted the very promise she'd been made, a promise equal to Avraham's. How did she face it? In the previous portion, Sarah laughed when she heard the angel's news that she would bear a child. We don't always laugh when we're happy. Sometimes we laugh to numb the pain of grief and bitterness. It wasn't ha-ha funny.
When confronted by the angel for the grief-ridden laugh, Sarah dies her greatest death so far. If she believes the angel, then she must DO something. For about the next three months, Sarah must act on her faith. Does anything happen the first month? No. The second month? No. Perhaps a third? After a lifetime of failure, shame, and a seeming empty promise, does Sarah stop? No. Each month she will act on a promise while the disbelievers giggle or shake their heads outside the tent.
How did Sarah do it? She died one more time. This time, however, there is resurrection in her death. Had she given up on the power of the Word, Sarah would not have died that final death, taking that final risk of ridicule, that led to Isaac's conception. With joy Isaac is conceived, but this time, with true laughter. The free laughter of a dead person is a sign of new life. "Yitzchak: He will laugh."
Faith without works is dead. Faith with works is life from the dead.
So whenever you think that the Word spoken into your life must have been a mistake, or you were too defective, or the Father changed His mind, or you're just too old and tired to believe anymore, remember the life of Sarah. Month after month she couldn't stop that coffin, but in the end, she jumped in with pure laughter.
I don't understand why the wicked prosper and it's so hard to walk in Messiah Yeshua's righteousness. I don't know why it's so hard to do the right thing. I don't know why some of those whom I thought were righteous stumbled when they seemed so strong in the Word. I don't know why people of faith insult and devour one another. I don't know why believers must suffer so many health problems when the blessing of health for keeping the Torah is recorded. I don't know. I just don't know how to stop my coffin.
The truth is, I'm not supposed to. I'm supposed to confront these questions of faith, maybe have a laugh or cry of grief, and then try one more time. Two more times. Three more times. I refuse to stop my soul from daily climbing into the coffin that will one day be broken at the resurrection, and my spirit will emerge victorious.
The wicked will no longer prosper. Doing good will be epidemic. The Body of Messiah will strengthen one another. My loved ones will resurrect healthy in every way, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I will understand the importance of my coffin and be glad that I kept crawling in it no matter how old, wrinkly, laughable, and outdated my faith became.
Blessed are those who haven't seen, and yet they believe. Whenever that blessing may be.