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Hearing a Voice from Beyond the Grave

The shock and joy that comes from hearing a dead man talk about the Resurrection is unlike many other experiences I have had. And as strange as such a thing sounds on paper, my whole family was able to witness such an event on Easter Sunday this year. Now, this dead man did not ascend into the heavens afterward, nor was he walking around allowing us to touch his hands and sides. No, he was firmly dead; buried six feet under the earth for nearly twenty-nine years. In fact, he has been there since my dad was fourteen. This man was my Grandpa Chuck, and we heard him through an old cassette recording from 1986, where he spoke about what Easter meant to him, and prayed a blessing over a post-service Easter meal for the church he attended in Michigan. Before I dive into the message of Grandpa Chuck, and how that ties in with the hope Christ extends to us all through His Resurrection, I must say a few things.

An Unexpected Encounter with a Man I'd Never Met

First off, I never knew him. Grandpa Chuck died in a horrific highway accident in the early 90s, and this has been a source of pain for my family ever since. Between the effects on the immediate family, with my widowed Grandmother K, who then had to raise three children on her own, my dad who went through a rough phase, and my Aunt A and Uncle J who dealt with the loss in their own ways, there has been a gap in the family that has not been filled since he passed away. Then there is both Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa W, both of whom are still alive, whose hearts still grieve over the sudden loss of their oldest son. And while the driver who had fallen asleep and hit the highway service vehicle that killed my Grandpa was forgiven, the hurt and loss has not gone away just by forgiving. There is, has been, and will be till Christ returns, a hole in the hearts of members on both sides of the family, and in the communities that he was a part of.

Growing up and hearing stories of Grandpa from my family despite never having known him, I was blown away by how faithful to and honest with the Lord he seemed. Some of these stories are when Great-Grandma W would tell us about how a few weeks before his death he was saying things like, “I’ll be going home soon.” Or when Grandma K and my dad would talk about how Grandpa was known for taking fellowship very seriously—to the point of being late for almost everything because he was too busy talking with fellow congregants and friends. From those stories and all the others, I grew up thinking of Grandpa Chuck as my role model, though I had never met him (and he stayed as my role model until I knew Christ). Even when I first started attending church my senior year of high school, the first person who I talked with had known my Grandpa and was glad to see one of his family members. Through all of this, my admiration of Grandpa Chuck has been an immense help in my faith journey.

My Grandfather's Influence on My Faith

People talk sometimes of making their faith their own; to not just inherit your parent’s faith, or what your grandparents believed in, but rather to come to Christ on your own. And I most certainly agree that we need to do this. But can the inspiration of the faith of a dead family member be something inherited? Or more plainly, can something or someone you’ve never met show you something of what true faith is like? I should like to think so. After all, my never having met Grandpa has made the mystery of having to trust Christ despite not knowing Him corporeally an easier bridge to cross than if had I known him. And though I could write much more about how Grandpa’s relationship with Christ shaped my relationship with Him, the event this past Easter impacted my whole family also. To regale the tale of just a few short days ago, I was called early in the morning by my Grandma K who asked if I could find a portable cassette player at our house, since my dad loved music and had many cassette players when he was younger, and my mom had almost been a medical transcriber before she got pregnant. I told Grandma K that we probably had one laying around, and I would look for one and let her know if it worked. So, I got up and started the search for something I assumed was for the annual Easter egg hunt we do, to play music for the younger cousins or maybe some elaborately put together scavenger hunt like Grandma K used to put together. Though we didn’t have a cassette player, my dad had an old boombox which we were able to get working for what Grandma K had intended.

Showing up at Great-Grandma S’ house for the Easter dinner, Grandma K immediately asked me to follow her with the boombox. We stepped into a room away from where the family was gathering, put in a white cassette labeled, “1986 Easter Devotion”, hit the play button, and listened. The recording started out with some organ music and the end of a hymn the congregation was singing. The static in the recording was too loud to let us discern which hymn was being sung. After that, a booming voice was heard which, although muffled a bit, was audible. It was the head pastor of the church, standing and introducing Chuck W, who would be sharing a bit about what Easter meant to him, and then offer a blessing over the food they were about to eat. At this, Grandma K started to tear up, and I realized the weight of the almost supernatural moment we were sharing.

The Message and Meaning of Easter

Grandpa started out talking about how Easter’s central message is about the Resurrection; Christ rising from the dead and making a way for us to be in relationship with God without guilt or shame. He spoke about how he believed that we would be caught up to meet Him when He returns, and that the words of Scripture were a firm ground to stand on for that hope. After a bit Grandpa moved to talk about something that seemed heavy on his heart, the responsibility each of us has as Christians to make disciples of Christ—to spread the news of the hope we have in Him and fulfill the Great Commission. I wish I could remember more of what he said, but I was too overwhelmed just hearing his voice that it was hard to pay attention to much else.

All while he was talking, I was tearing up alongside Grandma K. It had been, after all, the first time I heard his voice. And what a joyfully painful thing it was! To hear the voice of someone you’ve loved though you’ve never met them, but to also realize that you’re presently separated from them and are not with them is a bittersweet feeling beyond what I can express with these words. But to attempt to explain what that felt like, it was a mix between healing, hope, joy, sadness, and longing.

It was healing in being able to hear his voice when I had never expected to hear him before Christ returned or He called me home. It was hopeful in the sense that I was palpably reminded of how I would one day be able to meet Grandpa in person and be able to talk with him rather than imagine him. It was joyful in the sense that I was reassured that God has worked in my family in the past, is working now, and will continue to love us until the day we all meet.

But at the same time, there was immense sadness in realizing that the Day and Moment when all these wonderful things would happen was not the one my Grandma and I were standing in. And the sense of longing, perhaps a primal instinct we all have after the fall, for things to be the way they should be was heightened in this time when we heard his voice. Grandpa then finished his prayer, Grandma and I stood there for a moment in silence before we wiped our tears and talked about how beautiful it was to have heard him.

How Jesus Met My Family on Easter

After that precious moment, the tape was rewound and the boombox was brought out into the dining room and set on a dresser. Grandma K called everyone into the dining room, told everyone that we would be hearing about what Easter meant from a very special man and that he would pray for our meal. I pressed play, and we all listened in. At first, most of the family was very confused as to what the horrible static organ music was, and why Grandma K had asked for this to be played. And as the head pastor spoke and introduced Chuck W, the room changed. My mom, Aunt A, Great Grandma S, my cousins and siblings started tuning in, wanting to hear every word. When Grandpa Chuck started speaking, Grandma K’s tears drove her to leave the room. Every single one of us was touched in some way. Many tissues were spent, and though many people in my family don’t attend church, and my siblings don’t consider themselves Christian, they could not deny the weight of what was going on before us. As the recording ended, we all weren’t sure how to move on from that. Great Grandma S broke the silence by simply remarking how good it was to hear his voice again, and how precious it was. Grandma K came back in the room and she, my dad, Aunt A and Uncle J talked for a bit about what that Easter morning was like from what they could remember, and then we broke for food. And the dinner, Easter egg hunt, and catching up took the rest of our day.

After most of the day’s festivities, Grandma K asked my brother to do something for her. He has been interested in audio-engineering for a while, and has a variety of audio mixers, sound splitters, some technical audio programs for balancing EQ and other such things. So, Grandma asked my brother if he would be willing to take the cassette tape, digitally clean the audio file so it wasn’t so staticky, and then burn it onto a CD or USB drive so everyone who wanted a copy could have one. He gladly agreed, though had no idea how he was going to do it and is working on the project this week.

And that is how Jesus showed up to my family this Easter. Hearing the voice of a family member who has departed this life to be with Christ is one thing; hearing Grandpa talk about what the Resurrection meant for him was a spiritual experience. Hearing his voice and knowing he is with the Lord heightened the sense of what Easter is and the impact it will have on people when Christ returns. To be reunited with lost family members and friends whose lives were gone far too soon; all the people whose lives cancer has taken, who have died to disease or sickness; those who took their own lives, who passed on in old age, and any other way people have left us. This Easter, through an old cassette tape, my family was palpably able to experience a reminder of Christ’s Resurrection, and a foretaste of the one that is to come at His return. And what a beautiful thing it is to know that God so deeply desired to have a relationship with us that He made a way past our sins and mistakes that we could be forgiven and brought back into communion with Him.

Learning to Make Disciples Like Grandpa

Through this experience, I hope Christ can continue to work in the lives of my family. For my brother to possibly get curious about who Jesus is when he edits the audio and hears Grandpa talk about the central part of the Christian faith. Maybe my sister will share this with her boyfriend and they’ll both talk about this and why it was as big of a deal as it was. Maybe Uncle J and Aunt B will see how this impacted the family and be committed to taking their daughter and themselves to church. Perhaps Aunt A will have some time to reflect on how much Grandpa loved us, and how much more than that Christ does. Maybe my dad will be encouraged
by hearing his dad’s voice and have a renewed sense of hope. Perhaps through this cassette tape some broken things can be made whole again.

As for me, I am still fixated on what seemed to be Grandpa’s heartfelt desire for making disciples. The tone—through the static—and way he talked about this was a simple and pure one. It didn’t seem that he was afraid or focused on figuring out “the right” strategy for discipleship, but that his desire to do this was based on his love of the Lord and how His love for him shaped and changed his life. And I pray that I can continue to learn from Grandpa and more so from Jesus until the day when we all meet together.

 


Editors Note:
If you want to become more intentional about leaving a Spiritual Legacy, a good place to begin is our Leaving a Spiritual Legacy video. This quick video by Dr. Joel Woodruff, President of the C.S. Lewis Institute will give you inspiration and give you practical ways to leave a Spiritual Legacy.


James A. Webb

James A. Webb is a recent graduate of Calvin University who grew up in southern Michigan. He served as a temporary intern at CSLI as part of the Falls Church Fellows Program, through The Falls Church Anglican, and played a role in the redesign and launch of the updated website.

 

 

COPYRIGHT: This publication is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

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