My grandfather passed away two months ago while I was out of the country. I couldn’t fall asleep the night I heard the news. I tossed and turned for a few hours; images of my favorite moments with him kept going through my mind. I had a hard time even wanting to pray that night. Instead, these images of him just kept rolling through my mind. Sadness and joy kept moving back and forth in my mind like the ocean’s waves with each new memory that came to mind.
And then a new image appeared in my mind's eye. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a vision. It was like seeing the top of a grand painting and slowly moving down to behold the whole picture.
At the very top were the hosts of heaven in bright gold, yellow, and white. Bright, blinding light overwhelmed this top part of the picture. It was clear that saints and angels were shrouded amid these glorious rays of light.
But then my eyes moved down this painting and I saw that the glory of heaven was surrounding Jesus who was on his knees bending down. He was pulling someone up in his arms, their head in the crook of his elbow. The body he was holding in his arms was lifeless, but it appeared with Jesus’ touch, the man’s eyes were just about to flicker open. Life was about to surge through his body once again.
And then I realized the man in Jesus' arms was my grandfather.
The picture then opened up even more as I saw further down. There I was, my body hovering in the air, one hand outstretched towards Jesus, my fingertips having just let go of my grandfather as Jesus picked him up. My body was stretched as I looked toward Jesus, but then I realized I wasn’t alone. Below me was a group of people standing in a circle with their arms outstretched towards me. I knew all of them; they were family and friends, church members and old acquaintances.
And then I realized what all of this was about. This was a picture of prayer.
When we pray for someone, we are coming before Jesus, and entrusting them to his merciful care. We must let go, in some way, in order that our Lord may bring them into his glorious kingdom with saints and angels, and all those who have gone before us. He is the Good Shepherd, and he will care for his sheep in heaven and on earth.
But we are not alone as we grieve. There is the community of prayer who lifts us up in our time of sorrow. They encircle us as we go before the Lord, and hand over the ones we love but see no longer. They are the church on earth, who through this sacred action, connect themselves to the church in heaven. Their prayers flow into our prayer before the Lord.
This picture reminded me that prayer is not begging before a God who doesn't listen, nor is it playing the lottery of God's favor. It is a fragrant offering where we lay ourselves fully before our Good Shepherd. We bring before him our hopes, our fears, and of course, our loved ones. It is a vulnerable place to be, but the invisible church in heaven is praying for us from above, and the visible church on earth encircles us from below.
The link between the two is the Lord himself.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:11-15).