I am waiting for my wife’s “death certificate,” a legal paper that testifies to her death. Our mission is sending me a “death packet,” with various kinds of materials—all meant to help me.
The word “death” sounds so final, and it is. We all face it, and despite the best poetry and images, it is most often not pleasant. Our body, which Paul compares to a tent in 2 Corinthians 5, will eventually be “torn down.” It is therefore a temporary structure, but there is a house in heaven for us to live in and it will last forever.
The “final sting” in this life is death, a personal enemy, who is usually accompanied by sickness, and both are enemies of God. The literalness of this event should cause even the most hard-hearted person to reflect on the inevitable path to the grave. There is much more to it, of course, while we are still alive. However, those who believe the words of Jesus will “sprout to life” after they die (! Corinthians 15.36).
We don’t see this marvelous metamorphous take place. All we usually see in death is someone dying, and it should bring God into the picture. Did He really allow this? As Martha complained, “If you would have been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11.22) “If you would have been here…,” is a desperate plea for help and all of us will probably think or say it.
How does God feel about the death of a human? Note Psalm 116.15: “How painful it is to the Lord when one of His people dies!” He knows the agony and suffering of death. His own Son suffered and died, and Jesus is the High Priest “on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” (Hebrews 12.2)
You can tell I have been thinking about death—not just because my wife just died, but because I am old and need to be prepared for it as well. We both joked: Who would go first? What would the other do when alone? But we were serious about it too. We had both prayed that we would be “faithful to the end.” Faithful to God, of course, but faithful to each other, to our family, to our faith, to our friends, and as a witness to the world.
Death is final in the sense that our mortal body (our tent) is dispensed with so that our immortal body can take shape. “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11.20) Then Jesus also asked, “Do you believe this?” Our faith allows us to be certain about it and to be confident of what we cannot see. (Hebrews 11.1)
I don’t mean this to be simply a sermon on death or a walk down morbid main street. I want it to be a joyful realization that God has something much better for us than the things of the world. His wonderful promises and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our “tents” can compel us to live and think differently about what our culture provides with its enticements.
Death bringing life: We try to understand and live with this paradox, this “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” (Wikipedia)
The traditional wedding vow goes like this: “I, _____, take thee, _____, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith.”
I’m sure I skipped over the phrase “till death do us part” rather quickly in 1956, but once death parted us, I realize how serious that expression is. I can’t take it lightly because our parting here is final. For almost 65 years we fulfilled that vow, “according to God’s holy alliance.” That is also my comfort—needed badly now.
Not many of you have been married as long as Joice and me, but if you are married you have taken a vow. It is a sacred promise and a privilege to fulfill.