Years ago in late summer we moved into a house that had been empty almost a year. When I opened the fireplace damper to see if it was operational, four dead birds fell out. That should have warned us that we needed to screen the chimney top. But we were busy with getting settled and put it off.
In early spring I awoke to a clanging sound coming from downstairs. When I investigated, I found another bird caught in the chimney, helplessly flailing his wings against the iron damper, trying to escape. I had the power to set him free, but knew it could be a messy process.
Armed with rubber gloves and a basket, which the bird was supposed to fall into, I set out to free him. I covered the furniture in the living room in case he got loose and left some things behind. As I opened the damper, the frantic bird escaped my gloved hand and the security of the basket. He flew headlong, bouncing off each window pane where light was coming in, and finally being caught between the blinds and kitchen window. I finally managed to grab him and carry him to the door. He flew away without a backward glance at the place that had been his prison.
After seeing what didn’t work, I developed a bird rescue program. I covered the furniture, closed all the blinds, and put a blanket over the glass in the front door. Then I opened the back door wide so that it was the only light streaming toward the fireplace. That system worked. Birds trapped in the fireplace weren’t frightened by a groping hand and a big basket. An unseen hand suddenly opened their prison gate, and they flew toward the light and freedom.
ALL WE LIKE BIRDS
This week while others are thinking of bunnies and eggs as Easter symbols, I’m thinking of birds. For what I occasionally had to do for birds caught in my chimney is a tiny picture of what Jesus Christ did for us by His death and resurrection.
Knowing that we are like birds, one moment flying free and the next imprisoned in the dark chimney of death, Jesus went before us to open the damper. He didn’t merely stand on the other side of death and pull a lever. He entered the frightening chimney Himself and broke through the damper for all who follow Him. Now, as the hymn says, “Death cannot keep its prey. He tore the bars away.”
If Jesus had not opened death’s damper, we would have no more hope than the four birds that lay dead in the chimney of my empty house. All of them must have struggled repeatedly to get out. Three must have been frightened to be locked in a place with one or more of its kind already dead. Some may have frantically broken their wings against the brick and iron. But to no avail.
Death is frightening for those experiencing it and for those waiting with them. It can be a long painful process that confirms it to be, as Paul said, “the last enemy.” But it is an enemy that God has declawed and defanged. An enemy that will eventually die itself.
Moses wrote, “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
About the time I learned how to release birds from my chimney, my mother died of cancer. As I stood by her casket, I was grateful her trouble and sorrow were over. She had left the body that had been her home—and her prison—for nearly 70 years. She had flown away.
Because of Easter and Jesus’ sacrifice, I know that one day I will follow her through the dark chimney and out the open door where the light is streaming in.
©2017 by Vicki Huffman