“As Those Prepared to Die”
In the opening prayer in The Service of Death and Resurrection we ask for God’s grace, “that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity.” We also pray that God will “help us to live as those who are prepared to die” so that we will be enabled to “die as those who go forth to live.”
All Saints’ Day calls us, not only to celebrate those faithful saints who have gone before us, but to be prepared to follow them on the way that leads through death to the new life of the resurrection because, after all, we will die. We cannot choose when or how we will die, but we can choose the way we prepare. We get to live now in ways that are consistent with the way we believe this world will be when “the kingdoms of this earth become the Kingdom of our God and Christ.” (Revelation 12:10)
Martha and I have been going over our “final arrangements.” Our living wills and health care surrogates, wills and estate plans (including gifts to the church and other ministries), burial arrangements and funeral plans are all in order (and paid for!) We don’t plan to use them anytime soon, but it’s a gift our parents gave us and one we want to give our children.
It led me to reread Tom Long’s excellent book, Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral. Along with practical guidance for a Christian approach to the way we deal with death, Long’s chapter on The Future of the Dead in Christ is a brief, excellent, and hopeful bible study on what we believe about death, resurrection and Heaven. I recommend it to everyone who thinks they might die one of these days.
Living in Two Times at the Same Time
As we changed our clocks last night (or allowed them to change themselves), we talked about the bizarre way we impose our human understanding of time onto the timeless revolution of the planets which is totally beyond our control. We are, in fact, living in two very different kinds of time at the same time. Our human sense of time is set in the context of eternity where time is utterly irrelevant.
So, here’s my new way of understanding what we mean when the creed says that we believe in “the communion of the saints.” All the “Downton Abby” fans will love this!
Think about the way the actors were living in two very different times at the same time. When they were the Crawleys and their servants everything about the way they lived was defined by all the limitations of life in Yorkshire between 1912 and 1926. But when they stepped away from Highclere Castle, they were set free from those limitations to live in the 21st Century. They were the same people, living in two very different times at the same time.
The resurrection doesn’t mean that saints (who can be any of us) are sent away to some distant heaven somewhere outer space. It means the people we have known, loved and who have shown us the way of life in Christ are very much alive and present with us in God’s time that is not limited by our human understanding of time.
On All Saints’ day we dare to believe the promise that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1) We gather around the table of our Lord “with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven.” They are all here, with us, alive in Christ in a life that is not bounded by our human limitations of time, but living in the timeless presence of God.
Go With Singing
One paragraph about the practices of the early Christian community capture the central theme of Tom Long’s book:
“Christians believed that they were taking their dead, not to the final resting place, but to the place of departure, the point of embarkation as the deceased travelled to God. ‘In the funeral of the departed, accompany them with singing,’ urged the ‘Apostolic Constitutions,’ and instead of dirges and sad songs…Christians walked to the grave with only the music of human voices singing pslams and hymns.”
With that, I return to the first prayer in our funeral liturgy.
“O God, who gave s birth…
Give to us now your grace,
that as we shrink before the mystery of death,
we may see the light of eternity.
Speak to us once more
your solemn message of life and of death.
Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.
And when our days here are accomplished,
enable us to die as those who go forth t live
so that living or dying our life may be in you,
and nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us
from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”
Grace, peace and hope,