Living on an island I am very aware of comings and goings. As a child, my friends and I would watch the ferry appear round the headland and we’d know we had time to head to town and watch the ferry dock and unload.
We’d lean over the railings and have a good nosey at the cars as they disembarked. Other days, we would take a 20-minute bus trip down to the airport and watch the planes landing and taking off.
These were mini-adventures providing fuel for our already active imaginations. Sometimes we would stand and look up at the white streaks left in the sky by jets en route to America. We dreamt of the day it would be us in the plane looking down on our wee island, going on an adventure somewhere the other side of the world.
I was twelve the first time I made the ferry trip without my parents. It was an unforgettable journey when I quickly discovered I didn’t have sea legs! I was 17 before I took my first plane journey, and I was hooked. I still love the feeling of taking off; it’s like you’ve won a battle defying the laws of nature.
I have always found airports fascinating places. There is always something happening — people coming and going, arriving and departing, saying hello and goodbye. I have also seen and experienced how quickly they can turn from a place of excitement to frustration and disappointment when flights are delayed or cancelled.
Airline was a popular show. It allowed us to identify with most of the situations people faced as they started journeys. We know what it is like to see the arrival board change and the word ‘Delayed’ appear.
We know what it is like to go to the carousel watching every bag going round, waiting as all except ours comes through, only to discover we were at the wrong carousel.
We know what it is to be pushed and shoved as someone running late tries to catch their plane; to have the bleeper go off when we walk through the scanner; and have security staff pull out your personal belongings for all to see. If we want to get somewhere by air, then we have no choice but to go to an airport.
I’m told the most dangerous parts of the journey are take-off and landing — a bit like life. If you want to fly you have no choice but to take off and land. Birth and death are the difficult times. To live we have no choice but to be born and to die.
Everyone gets so excited about our arrival on earth, but no one gets excited about our departure. Apparently, there are around 155,000 deaths every day — that’s 56.5 million people a year! There are currently 140 million births a year.
These are pretty phenomenal statistics and yet we assume we will never one of the 56.5 million. Death is something we don’t want to think about. We try and put it as far away from our minds as possible, because we don’t want to confront our own mortality.
We don’t want to think about what it will mean for us to die, so we either don’t talk about it or make jokes about it.
Part of the joy of going on a journey is having someone with you to share the experience. But death is a journey we have to make on our own. By the end of 2011, 56.5 million people will have made the journey and every one of them will have made it on their own.
We can hold someone’s hand up to the point of departure, but then we have to let go. I remember my mother a few months before she died saying, ‘we never think it is going to be us, we always think it is going to happen to someone else’.
The room went silent, because none of us wanted to accept the reality that cancer was going to take her away from us, that we would have to say ‘goodbye’.
But she was prepared; she had put her trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, she was scared because she was facing a journey she had never been on before, but she knew that Jesus would be waiting for her on the other side.
In 1990, I left Glasgow and took the long journey to Umtata, South Africa. I had never been before. I didn’t know what was ahead of me, but I knew there would be friends waiting for me at Umtata airport.
There was so much I had never experienced before and every now and again fear would well up. Was I in the right terminal? Did I have my ticket? But then the sense of excitement would bubble up and dampen all fears. This was going to be an adventure and I was determined to make the most of it.
My first shock was finding my seat wasn’t in business class! When I boarded the plane I saw these lovely, big, comfortable looking seats and thought, ‘Oh this won’t be too bad’, but it didn’t take me long to realise my ticket wasn’t for this section.
After getting settled in my seat, I was ready for take-off. I was used to flying in the shuttle between Glasgow and London; a short, fast, steep take off — brilliant stuff! This was my first time on a 747 and I thought we were going to run out of runway before we got off the ground.
But we made it, and twelve hours later arrived at Jo’burg Airport. The first thing that hit me there was the heat. I had never felt such heat so early in the morning. I had an eight hour wait for my flight to Umtata.
I was shattered, but I couldn’t find anywhere in the lounge to rest because it was all hard, orange plastic seats (it’s not like that now!). I was tired but excited, and then finally at 4.00pm I landed in Umtata to be greeted by my friends. The adventure had begun.
I imagine that it is going to be something like that when I take my final journey to meet Jesus — a sense of fear of the unknown, balanced with a knowledge I will be met by someone I already know.
Deep down, we all know one day that our journey will come to an end and we will leave everything behind. The only thing we have for ever is our soul. ‘Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath’ (Psalm 39:4-5).
Are you ready for the journey? It doesn’t matter who you are. Unless Christ returns in your lifetime, you will die. There is no insurance policy, potion or pill that will prevent you from dying.
The graveyards are full of people who were rich, poor, famous, ordinary, beautiful, plain, clever, adventurous, quiet, small and tall. All the things that create distinctions between people while alive disappear as soon as the final breath is taken.
What lies on the other side of death? The Bible makes it very clear there are only two places, heaven or hell.
We are told regularly by people who don’t believe in God that there is nothing to fear from death, because we will no longer exist. How do they know? It’s a huge risk to come to the very last step of the journey to discover you have been sold a lie.
If there is no God and no after-life, no one has anything to fear from death. But what if the atheists are wrong? Are you willing to wait until it is too late to find out the truth?
Telling people about Jesus Christ is not about winning arguments; it’s about showing people how they can be saved from sin and judgement.
What would you think of someone who had the cure for AIDS or cancer or cystic fibrosis and they didn’t share it with those who are suffering? Imagine using your life savings to buy a ticket for a round-the-world trip, only to discover when you show up at the airport the travel company has gone bust. You would feel more than cheated; you would feel devastated.
But you really can get ready for this journey. Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live’ (John 11:25).
© Dena Macleod