The people of this village on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu have been preparing for this day for months, even years. Collecting fruit and coconuts, harvesting root vegetables, buying fabric and rice, crushing and roasting taro, plucking chickens, fattening a cow and catching these giant fish on a small ocean canoe. But its worth it. Friends and relatives have traveled over land and sea for the celebration.
You may think that 10 years is a long time to spend translating the Bible with a people group like this one on Tanna, but all that work is just preparation for a huge eternal celebration.
Celebrations mark the beginnings and endings of things. Celebrations give clear indication of what we value and believe. These Tanna value God’s Word and demonstrate that value in the celebration of the completion of the translation of the New Testament into the Tanna language.
My family is gathering this week in Nebraska to celebrate.
This celebration will mark the beginning of my uncle Tim’s presence — fully reconciled, fully restored, fully remade — with His holy and gracious God. A beginning.
It also marks an ending. Tim is no longer confined to time and space, to a body that has been showing clear signs of decline for more than a decade as he lived with Parkinson’s, and to this season of his life. This is the hard part for those who are still stuck in living for a while longer.
The celebration will include, no doubt, stories of God’s faithfulness toward and through Tim. We will remember things together that ones of us have forgotten.
On Saturday, Tim’s brother and my uncle John was on the phone to my dad, I think it was, and said: “Yes, Tim is now dancing in heaven…”
My aunt Gladys (Tim’s wife…it seems too soon to use the word widow) cut in with a correction: “No, I don’t think he’s dancing. He’s driving a sports car…really fast.”
Our celebration is also our grief. It is filled with laughter and tears prompted by good memories of a life well-lived, a family well-loved, and a God well-served. Our sorrow does not preclude great joy because our HOPE is grounded well beyond the walls of circumstance and time in the very heart of GOD.