Pella Chronicle

Religion

October 11, 2013

Death: Not the Last Word!

Pella —

Fall is upon us. In some ways we could call this “the season of death”: the trees are “dying” as the leaves change color, turn brown, and fall off their branches; the fields are bare and brown after another harvest; we move from the long, beautiful days of summer to the encroaching dark of diminishing daylight.
But death of a more profound nature is even closer to us. I recently had the opportunity to visit a parishioner’s father. The visit took place in a hospice: pulmonary fibrosis was slowly causing his lungs to fail; he was not expected to live more than a few more months or weeks. Less than two days after the visit, this man’s physical health failed, and he passed into eternity.
The ministry of the gospel involves “marrying and burying”–the alteration between the joy of weddings and the sobriety of funerals. In thirteen years as a minister, I have done far more burying than marrying. How are people of Christian faith supposed to respond to the ultimate, sobering reality of death? Do we simply follow our culture–desperate to ignore the reality of the elephant in the room?
The apostle Paul tells the Thessalonian church: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thess. 4:13-14) Notice first that Paul does not say, “Don’t weep.” Paul says that Death is an enemy that has yet to be finally defeated (1 Cor. 15:25-26). Jesus himself, the eternal Son of God, did what at the tomb of his friend Lazarus? He wept!
Yes, we weep at the “alien” presence of death, esp. human death, in God’s good creation. But we do not weep “as others who have no hope.” Christian hope tempers and even transforms our sorrow. What is our hope? It is not merely that we “go to heaven” when we die (though that is true and does bring a degree of comfort; Phil. 1:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:1-10). God created us body and soul, and his redemption is not merely that we will be “disembodied souls” for all eternity.

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