As a clergyman, people often ask me if I am afraid to die, or, conversely, if I really believe all those things I say about death in sermons, particularly at funerals. To the first question the answer is no. However, the process of dying, and certain ways of dying, pain, and all the accoutrements of dying may bother me when I think upon the process of leaving this earth… I don’t want to die, because I am only learning to live more fully. I love life, family, friends, and the Church here on earth, most of all, I love God, and He gave me this life as a gift, so I cherish it. As to question two, do I really believe those things I say about death, the answer is a resounding yes!
Life is eternal, and is meant to be lived in the joy of that knowledge. God loves each and every one of us. He has known us before the world was created. Our relationship with God is NOT about judgment, but love. God, who is spirit, came into the world as one of us.
God in Christ has joined the divine with the human, the physical with the spiritual. He has given to us eternal life, by conquering death, and opening the very gates of hell to release the souls imprisoned there (1 Peter 18-20). For He will allow nothing to separate us from His love, not life or death, no power or principality (of the earth or spiritual realm), nothing in all of creation, can separate us from His love. (Romans 8: 31-39).
He came in order that all of us might be reconciled to him, and ultimately come into his closer presence, forever joined. He came for every last bit of His creation, all that the Father has given Him, shall come to Him. He will in no way cast us out (John 6:37). He did not come to shove some away from Him forever, but rather to raise up and embrace all. Jesus did not do a halfway job, but completed His purpose, to destroy the powers of hell, and redeem creation.
It is my belief that when we pray, we transcend time and space and are with the whole Body of Christ — all those we love, the living and the dead, all who have gone before, and all who are on earth still…Their voices joining with ours, the angels, archangels, and all the Company of Heaven.. Just as God came into the world to embrace His creation with the human arms of Christ, so, too, we embrace those we love with the Divine arms of Christ. Our God who gifted us with His Divinity, and Himself took on our humanity did so that the spirit embraces the physical, the Divine embraces the human, and that we might all be Christ’s own forever, joined together in Him.
So, no, I am not afraid of death, but hold my hand should I suffer, I will need you. Yet I know that as I walk through the Valley of Death, our shepherd will be with me, as with us all. He will be there for all of His sheep, and He will call us by name, and we will follow. We have eternity to get it right, but life is so much more joyfully lived in the light of God’s love, and our acknowledgement of His presence — we will fear no evil, and His guidance will keep us on the path of righteousness and peace. He will fill us as a cup to overflowing with love, in this world and the next (Psalm 23).
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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