When the space shuttle Challenger exploded, everyone on board was lost. But something traveling aboard did survive. Workers recovering fragments of the ship found a duffel bag floating in the Atlantic. Inside was a soccer ball that an astronaut had brought with him. Ellison Onizuka was an assistant coach for his daughter’s soccer team. Given the chance to carry something personal into space, he chose to take a soccer ball signed by everyone on the team.
Ellison’s wife remembers being brought into a conference room where she huddled with the other astronaut’s family members. Nasa officials informed them there were no survivors. Ellison’s wife fainted. As she slid down the wall she turned off the light switch and the room went dark…an irony as everyone in the room’s personal light went out.
The Soccer ball was presented to his daughter’s school and for 30 years it sat in a display case in the hallway, gradually fading from the community’s collective memory.
In October of 2016 another astronaut, whose daughter also attended this particular school, was given the chance to carry something personal on his flight to the International Space Station. He asked permission to take the soccer ball.
The ball spent 173 days in space, orbiting the earth 3,000 times before finally coming home. The ball had completed its original mission. Now it sits prominently in the display case again.
When someone dies too young or too soon a deep dream is deferred. This world doesn’t feel big enough and life never seems to last long enough. Most would concur with this feeling. God has placed within us a homing beacon, a reminder that our stories were made to straddle two worlds. We ache for what was never completed in this life, a desire that can only be satisfied in eternity.
This is one of the primary takeaways from Easter. When Jesus died, the lights seemed to go out. But then a rumor began to spread: Jesus had not been conquered by death. He had faced humanity’s greatest enemy and won.
Followers of Jesus live in the confidence that even when something seems incomplete or tragically cut short, it will one day be made right by the God who rules both this world and the next. We live in the expectation that life’s mysteries will be understood.
-Rev Dr William Lewis