In his wonderful book, Preparing for Heaven, Gary Black Jr, tells a powerful story that took place in his childhood. It happened one summer while he was visiting his maternal grandparents. He tells the story in his own words:
While bored one stifling hot Missouri afternoon with nothing to do, I discovered my grandfather’s old army footlocker. Inside I found a treasure chest of relics from World War II. There was a red Nazi swastika armband, an old pewter whiskey flask, some tarnished medals, a large black leather picture album full of black-and-white snapshots, and a smattering of opened envelopes with rainbow-colored postal markings indicating they’d traveled halfway around the world. At the bottom of the locker was my grandfather’s dark brown service cap. I pulled it out, unfolded it, and tried it on my head. Under the hat was a small black pistol no bigger than the palm of my hand. My heart raced. Just as I reached down to touch it, I was pulled up to my feet by the back of my hair with a not-so-gentle tug. My scream alerted my grandmother who rushed to the bedroom.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The boy’s got his nose where it doesn’t belong,” my grandfather proclaimed.
Looking down at the open locker my grandmother took pity on me.
“Well, let him loose and sit down in the kitchen and go through it together. “
With a grunt of protest my grandfather picked up the trunk, and we all moved to the kitchen. It seemed as if he hadn’t looked at the contents in a while. I asked question after question about each item. What proceeded was the longest and most intimate and memorable conversation I ever had with my grandfather. Everything was progressing nicely until we turned a page in the photo album, and a picture of four long-lost friends caught his eye. He gasped and put his hand to his unshaven face, covering his mouth, trying to hide the emotions that were starting to overwhelm him. His eyes filled with tears. I was so young I didn’t know what was happening. I’d never seen him cry. I looked at my grandmother next to the stove, and she walked over, put her hand on his shoulder, and said, “It’s all right. It’s all right.” I think she was trying to comfort us both. It took a long time before he could talk again.
“Pops, did you know those soldiers?”
“Yes, I did. We were great pals.”
“Did they die?”
“Yep. Each of them died very close together too. It was pretty hard on me to lose them all at once like that. Those were the heroes. Yes, sir. They all died trying to save the other, trying to protect each other. Those were the heroes.”
Black says this event planted the seed in his heart that would eventually develop into the realization that one of the great glories of life is discovered in the potential we have to give our lives, even to the point of death, in complete devotion to a higher good.
As we approach Easter, we need to be reminded that there is no greater good than that found within Christ’s ultimate sacrifice at the cross. As the writer of Hebrews put it, “He tasted death for everyone.” (2:9)
Thanks be to God!