“For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Romans 14:8
We belong to a small group that meets by phone for what we call “centering time” on Tuesday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00 AM. We’ve been discussing a book about how people encounter God in their suffering called My Bright Abyss. It is written by Christian Wiman who is living with cancer – death is always just around the corner for him.
This week’s chapter was about his experiences of being with other people as they died. Something made some seem different from others – some were what he experienced as good deaths where people seemed to somehow die with a sense that they were part of something or their life had contributed to something in some way. Other deaths seemed not so good, filled with regret or other things that made the death less fulfilling. Wiman’s experiences did not always line up with people’s religions. Some religious people still died not so good deaths and other people who weren’t religious might still have a good death.
While in Ireland we spent a lot of time in places where death was the focus. Many of the monasteries and abbeys have closed and lie in some state of ruin. But the cemetery there is still a cemetery and in some cases, people continue to be buried there. Celtic crosses and other gravestones mark the graves of people whose lives span centuries of history among them.
In one particularly unique moment while on the Aran Islands I (Dave) had a somewhat holy experience. There was a sense that I was somehow thinking beyond my own span of years – however many more I may or may not have. But the sense that we are part of something bigger and the connection between the life we live and the elements of the earth from which we have come made me think. “I think I am looking forward to being reunited with the earth,” I felt my inner voice say. It almost caught me by surprise – this sense that my life will end but that will be its own holy part of my journey as a person. Death was the most friendly to me personally as I have ever experienced it to be.
In the text at the top of this message, Paul reminds us that in some ways life and death aren’t as different as we make them. We live to the Lord – always hoping to be connected to Christ and useful to his purposes here. But we die to the Lord – always trusting that even in death we belong to God. In all things – life and death – we belong to God.
I am in no hurry to rush death. There is much I want to do and I sense a calling from God to keep doing them. But it is good to know that as the day draws nearer, my sense that I can trust God with my death is somehow life giving. It makes Paul’s words come to life for me: “Whether I live or whether I die, I am the Lord’s.” May it be true for you, too.