“Now we know that if the earthly tent which we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed by our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed we will not be found naked.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-3 NIV
As a kid growing up in upstate New York we did some camping in the Adirondack Mountains as a family. Really it was usually a partial family experience since some of the family was always either too busy or just not overly thrilled by the prospect of mosquitoes, sleeping on the rocky ground, or eating scrawny fish for dinner. There were a few times when we had 6-7 of our eight family members including our Mom. Camping wasn’t her favorite but when she joined us she always had a cheerful playfulness in being together. Those times were pretty special. For me, my older brother Vince, my younger brother Steve, my little sister Sharon, and my Dad we thought camping was pretty great, always jumping at the chance. At least my Dad made us believe he loved it anyway. That is an important part of a Dad’s job description. We always had a powerboat growing up and our boat gave us access to 29 miles of shoreline along the beautiful Sacandaga Reservoir to pick a campsite. Sometimes we went to Lake George as well. They were beautiful lakes with many solitary coves for camping. Water skiing was a favorite activity on these camping weekends along with fishing and nights by the campfire.
Our Dad had great patience with us as kids teaching us to fish; untying endless knots in our line, untangling fishing lures caught in trees, and treating the occasional wound sustained by a hook snagging one of us from a wild cast. The family fishing derby was a highlight too. The kid who got the most fish whether perch, bass, or sunfish had bragging rites for the weekend and received the biggest banana split at the soft serve stand on the way home. The one thing that allowed us to cope with the occasional bad weather and the bugs was the family tent. I think my Dad had bought it at a garage sale. It was a massive thing that took hours to put up. Maybe it just seemed that way to a twelve year old boy who couldn’t wait to swim, fish, climb and skip rocks with his brothers. I have some great memories from those camp outs. Our family tent represented one of the best seasons of our family life. That tent framed for me some of my best experiences with our family. One camp out stands out above the others, however, because of the sad and sudden sense of loss I experienced with it.
We had finished up a great weekend at Sacandaga Lake and we were packing the boat to go back to the boat launch. We hadn’t taken the tent down yet and my dad was calling for us to get in the boat. I remember my surprise when he said that we were going to leave it. I knew that it was pretty old and badly worn with tears but it had been a part of our family for many years. It just wasn’t right. In an instant our family tent was gone and with it the prospect of camping weekends to come. It wasn’t just that specific tent but the season in our life that was passing with it. My older brother was more interested now with girls and high school football. My Dad’s work and sports for us was increasingly more of a drain away from family time. It seemed as if we would never recapture those times again.
When the apostle Paul wrote about our earthly tent he referred to our earthly body. He states in the verse at the top that this tent is our earthly home. Maybe you have experienced the loss of a loved one who left their earthly home for their eternal dwelling place. Maybe they left suddenly like the way we left our tent standing on the shoreline. As I have thought about that tent I realize that my memories are probably greater than the actual family experiences we shared. My memories are partially real events and personal experiences of the heart but they are mixed with a deeper longing. A heavenly longing. “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed by our heavenly dwelling.” Maybe my deepest longing for “home” and family was designed to be fulfilled in an eternal home, not built by human hands. My mother died of a heart attack at age 59 without warning. My Mom and Dad had divorced just a few short years before her death. Her last years were painful years for her because she viewed herself as a wife and Mother. Her family was unalterably changed by divorce. Her funeral was both a joyful celebration of resurrection hope coupled with a deep sense of loss. We celebrated our Mother’s reception by Jesus in her heavenly home with all of God’s family. That was her heart’s deepest longing. I know that we will be reunited again when our family experience of love will become all that God intended in the fullness of his presence. I know that our father too will be there. After many years of prayer by the family he came to Christ in repentance and faith. He walked with the Lord for 10 years before he was called home at age 79.
There is a great story about death and resurrection in John’s gospel that relates powerfully to our discussion. Jesus said to Mary and Martha when asked about his promise that their dying brother would rise again. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 NIV
Jesus was saying that everyone who is hidden through faith in his resurrection life will experience physical death only as a passage way to his full presence.
Do you believe this? It is the most important question you will ever answer.
Our Mother believed Jesus was the resurrection and the life. She believed in his Cross where he took on himself the penalty of sin in her place. She believed He conquered sin, death, and the devil when he rose on the third day. Resurrection hope is an anchor for the Christ follower to live in the full assurance that their destiny is secured. It is also great comfort for our loved ones when we are taken swiftly in death. Their spirit departs from their earthly tent in an instant and they are immediately in the presence of our Lord. How precious are the promises of God to his children regarding our blessed assurance of eternal life. How sad it is when the best that mourners can express are uncertain words like “they are in a better place.” Without a personal relationship with Christ that statement is absent of any real assurance. Only through faith in Christ can we escape sin’s judgment in eternal separation from God.
“When we are clothed we will not be found naked.” Only Jesus himself can be our covering in death. Only Jesus can clothe us with his mercy and his righteous robe of holiness. Only He can cover our nakedness of sin, guilt, and shame. Being clothed by his resurrection life, physical death is not an end. It is only a passage way into his direct presence.
Leo Wisniewksi is the Director of Locking Arms Men, a Pittsburgh based men’s ministry making disciples of men of all ages.