These past few Sundays, the second reading at Eucharist has been from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15 where Paul talks about Death and Resurrection. He ends with the note that Jesus was the first-born of the dead to Resurrection--all of us are meant to follow that path to Resurrection.
As you may know, I (Ron) have worked as a hospital/hospice chaplain these last thirty-five years. Jean, too, has ministered thirty years in hospice/hospital ministry. We thought about death a lot—usually other people’s dying as we accompanied them and their families on that journey. More recently, I think more about my own dying. I would like to share a few reflections.
- 1. Thinking about dying changed the way we live. I cannot tell you how often when ministering to people after a sudden death (from a heart attack or a car crash, etc.) survivors would lament to me: “I wish I had told him/her how much I love him/her.” That has prompted me to have a practice of telling people often how much they mean to me, what I admire about them, how they have touched my heart, how I love them. Jean, too, remembers when she was teaching the seminarians about accompanying people at the end of life, one of them said to her, “You must think about dying every day.” She responded, “I think about living every day."
- 2. What is it going to be like when we die, after we die? Naturally, I do not know for sure. However, on four separate occasions, four separate individuals who died and then were resuscitated, described going down a dark tunnel and seeing at the end of the tunnel a place of brilliant light and peace and joy. They described how “just before I was ready to cross over to the other side, they yanked me back and resuscitated me.” They all said, “I wish they had let me go…I’ll never be afraid to die again.”
- 3. What have we heard about the after-life:
- The Apostle Paul tells us that for those who love God, God has something prepared for us much better than we can ask for or imagine.
- What I want most for those I love is to be with them. God wants that too: to be with those God loves. God is a much better lover than I am and God has the power to bring that about for those God loves forever.
- You’ve might have heard the analogy made: if you asked a baby in her/his mother’s womb if s/he would like to be born or stay in the womb, the baby would probably say, “all my needs are met here, I am content here.” However, once the baby comes through birth to life and the loving care of family, the baby would say, “it is good that I have come this way.” So too, if you and I were asked, would you like to die or stay here on earth, like the baby in the womb we might say, “I like it here with people who love me.” However, when we are born through death into the arms of a God who loves and cares for us and into the company of all those we have loved us who are already there with God, we too would say, “It is good that I have come this way.” Jean and I often imagine all the people whom we have helped cross the threshold through death to new life and we both believe that when our time comes, they will be there to help us cross over. That is God’s economy. That is the Communion of Saints.
- Jesus teaches us something about dying, just as he teaches us in a visible way about God’s love for us and how we are called to live with compassion. At his dying, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Dying was very active, it was handing over his spirit to God, as well as trustfully surrendering to God’s love for him.
- Teilhard de Chardin says, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. Rather, we are spiritual beings on a human journey.” It is interesting to wonder how our spiritual journey will continue, after the human being in this world is over. We do not know exactly how our spiritual being continues. After death, Jesus was no longer limited to one time and one place. How will it be the same or different for us?
- Richard Rohr says that God is formless. In the first incarnation, God came among us in Jesus so that we would know how much God loves us in a way that we can see and experience. (Rohr contends that the incarnation happens over and over as God comes to us through many people, many times a day.) So if God is energy, is love, what might our dying into new life look like? Do we have the courage and the trust to wonder and to die into a new journey of discovery?
- Michael Morwood and the new cosmology believes: “that death is a dying into God: a transformation into a way of existence for which we have no images and no clear ideas of how it may happen…Easter links Jesus with all life, with transformation, with possibility of life beyond our imagining. Easter offers meaning and hope to all people. We give thinks and rejoice that Jesus so clearly and courageously linked our loving and our dying with living on in God. We rejoice that Jesus lives on, as we all will, in the reality we call God.”
We do not have any corner on this faithful wondering; where do your wonderings take you? “Love never melts” reads the winter flag we have flying outside our door. I think the challenge of these readings is: can we trustfully hand ourselves over to God, to love, to life without end, to the Communion of Saints of all ages and places.
At The Spirit of Life, we work together in prayer and companionship to loosen the attitudes and brokenness which can hold us bound. We believe that God’s desire for us is that we be “Whole” and thus “Holy”… full of life , unfettered by life-destroying prejudices and free to move openly as the Spirit calls us. Our belief in the sacredness of all created beings and loving relationships compels us to respond with care and compassion to all who are marginalized in our church and world. We invite you to come and to pray with us as we “do our own work” in growing into a deeper awareness of our own gifts and ‘growing edges’ and together create a community that invites diversity and honors the uniqueness of each individual and every journey. We are confident that you will feel welcome in the “home” of The Spirit of Life.
Praying for you and your loved ones days filled with light and love now and forever!
Ron & Jean