This week I started a series of homilies on the last four things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and hell.
I will start with Death. Over the past two and half weeks I have presided at 9 funerals. I have been thinking a lot about death as I visit with the families and bless the bodies of love ones and fulfill the rite of burial.
The ages of the persons who have experienced death range from 2 months old to 92 years old. The ages in between are 31, 40, 42, 54, 62, 64, 91. It has been quite an experience for the community. In particular the deaths of the young persons have stuck a chord with many. In the prime of their life they were called from this world.
Unfortunately, death is often surprising and shocking to us especially if a young person dies. In large part because we are very insulated from death in the US. The average life span is roughly 79 years. Thus, we think death is always a long way off, behind the bend that is no where near our reach.
We avoid the evidence of our own mortality and pretend it won't happen to us or to our family or we try with all our might to prevent it.
There was a time when churches were built adjacent to cemeteries. Everyone had to at least think about as they went to worship because they would pass the shadow of the tombstones of their ancestors. It was on their heart, mind and imagination. Because we are insulated form the reality of death, the power of the resurrection and its impact in our life has been lessen.
Death is unavoidable.
But having stated that it is important to note this about our life span. The final frontier is not between life and death. Though we speak it when we say it is a matter of life or death. The final frontier is between life with Christ and life without Christ. This of course means that our life span ranges not from conception to the grave but conception into eternity. Our earthly life is a small percentage of the total of our existence. Death does not end our existence.
What does scripture say on the subject. There is much to be found in scripture about death, but i wish to highlight three moments in scripture.
Death arrives on scene in Genesis chapter 2. It comes as a warning. God tells Adam and Eve that if they eat the fruit of a particular tree they shall surely die.
We know the rest of the story.
If you fast forward to the book of revelation chapter 21, death again appears. John is having a vision of the new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth. It consist of the full realization of the the kingdom of God. In that moment, when history reaches its consumption, John tells us that there will be no more death, no weeping, no mourning, no tears.
Then somewhere between these book ends of scripture, in the book of wisdom chapter 2 we read, God formed man to be imperishable. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world.
Think about that for a moment. Envy. Envy is when you can't have what you want and you don't want anyone else to have it either. The devil refused God's friendship, and he did not want man to have it either. In fact, this is still the MO of the devil today. He tries to drags us down with him.
Envy is the inability to rejoice in the goodness of the other or the inability to rejoice in the good that comes to another.
So where does this leave us.
The church teaches that in death the soul separates from the body. Where does the soul go? Are we breathe into nothingness. Or rather as scripture states, the souls of the just are in the hands of God. God creates in himself a place for us. The life source, spark, energy that makes each of us unique does not just fade into nothingness but finds its rest in God alone.
In death God calls man to himself.
The church reminds us that physical death incorporates us fully in to christ's redeeming act. And don't we groan for redemption? How often do we frustrate ourselves because we still haven't overcome our tendency to be impatient, or get angry or give in to lust? All of these realities demand redemption. Death opens up to the fullness of redemption.
Death is not a negative experience but appositive experience in which we reach a new level of being human. Is this not what the resurrection is all about.
Here is an analogy to ponder as we close.
When a child is conceived in its mother's womb, it is given an enclosed place to gestate and grow. Its environment, generally speaking is warm and secure. Yet, at some point the baby has to be delivered from the womb into the world. The baby is not meant for the womb. Only in being delivered can its powers be fully engaged and it can become who it is created to be. This process is painful. It involves anxiety, stress, wretched heartache, tears and the like not just for the mother, and the babies family but also for the baby.
Once the baby is born it can't go back in the womb. Going back would be a retreat into lesser way of being human.
Such it is in death. The world is like a womb. We are given a time to gestate, to grow, to mature. At some point, we too have to be delivered from the world into that place of higher existence. It, like a delivery of a baby, involves pain, tears, anxiety, stress, wretched heart ache and the like not only for the family but also for the one who is experiencing death. Then we are delivered. The loved one can not come back because coming back would be a retreating into a lesser way of being human.
Just like in delivering child eventually the pain subsides and joy is infused in our life, so it is in death. At some point the pain subsides and the joy of realizing the reality of new life in Christ takes over.
Here is the bottom line. Tragedy is not dying young. I heard that many times over the past few week. what a tragedy that they died so young! I disagree. It isn't the age by which we die that determines a tragedy but rather whether or not we had prepared in this life for that experience. This is the true tragedy.
Too many people live by the philosophy, Carpe Diem, or siege the day, live in the moment, live for today. This is foolish. People who live for the day with no thought for tomorrow usually end up arrested, thrown in jail, or a many other harmful things occur.
We should live for the moment. We should live for tomorrow, the great tomorrow, the last day that awaits us. Only with our eyes fixed on tomorrow can we truly live today. This is how we prepare.
We give more weight to the life of faith into our lives. W make sure truth is granted an higher importance than our selfish desires. Only then can we embrace the beauty of death as a birthing into the newness of life everlasting in christ.