The Reality Some Call Grim

wordswag_1501154460739As he walked next to a cemetery in a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico’s desert Eugene Peterson noted an empty grave.  “Did one of the brothers just die?” he asked one of the monks. “No, that’s for the next one!” What an unexpected reply!  The open grave was there to be a  reminder of the shortness of this life to that community of men.  (The Pastor, A Memoir – HarperOne, 2011)  Today, I will do what I do many times each year, leading a funeral service, sharing grief, standing close to grief and sorrow. No matter how many times I say those words, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,”  standing by an open grave is a reminder of mortality, a moment to refocus my life.

We Americans have no time for death, do we?  In another generation there were extended rituals of mourning and grief. Death was familiar, up close, personal. Today we leave our dying loved ones in the hands of the professionals. We rush past the jarring intrusion of loss and seek to resume our ‘normal’ lives as quickly as possible.  I believe that we are spiritually impoverished by our disconnect with mortality.

My first extended walk ‘through the valley of the shadow of death,’ came in 2009 when my Dad’s life ended. I spent two days and nights each week, for a year, at his bedside. It was exhausting, sorrowful, and one of the treasured blessed seasons of my life as I found the opportunity to know my Dad in a way that I had not known before.  In 2011, Mom moved into my home for the closing months of her life and once again, though difficult, the time was rich with love and I have no regrets about the emotional cost of those days.  Then, 3 years ago, my wife became terminally ill  with cancer and together we faced tht truth. In our time of tears we found a depth of love in those 20 months before her life here came to an end that was unmatched in our 4 decades of marriage.

Am I romanticizing death? Not at all. It is ugly, “the last enemy” the Bible says. But, we live better if we face the fact that death- of friend, of family, our own – is inevitable. Those who manage to create an illusion for themselves that Mom will live forever, that they will somehow elude that Last Appointment, often fail to invest their best in those things that truly matter. Those who understand death’s approach will choose to live the best life now.  Living near death has loosened my grip on my stuff, made me tender with others, and turned my gaze to the things of the Spirit.

I face death with Hope, too. Do I know everything about what stands on the other side of that formidable barrier? No!  But, I know enough from the Word.  Here’s my hope!  For the moment it is just a tiny spot of light on the horizon of time, like the North star that guides the traveler.  But, I know it will lead me home.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23, NIV) “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54, NIV)

Remember this – it is not our record of stellar morality, our membership in a church, or our observance of religious rituals on which our hope for eternal life rests! We hope in Christ – the One who makes us right with God. By faith, we receive His gift and our fear is replaced with peace.  Here is a word from the Word for all of us who are dying. Love Him, trust His grace, face death and live as those who have real hope. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Romans 5:8-11, NLT)


Live Like You Were Dying

He said
“I was in my early forties
With a lot of life before me
And a moment came that stopped me on a dime
I spent most of the next days
Looking at the x-rays
Talkin’ ’bout the options
And talkin’ ’bout sweet time”

I asked him
“When it sank in
That this might really be the real end
How’s it hit you
When you get that kind of news?
Man, what’d you do?”

He said
“I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying”

He said
“I was finally the husband
That most of the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend a friend would like to have
And all of a sudden going fishin’
Wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad
I finally read the Good Book, and I
Took a good, long, hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again

And then
I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying
Like tomorrow was a gift
And you’ve got eternity
To think about
What you’d do with it
What could you do with it
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?

And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I watched an eagle as it was flying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying”

Craig Michael Wiseman, James Timothy Nichols, Tim Nichols
• Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Round Hill Music Big Loud Songs, BMG Rights Management US, LLC


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