It's Not the End!
Some of the opposition to Proposition 161, the Death with Dignity Initiative, (and please notice, I am saying "some", not "all" or even "most") assumes that death is the worst option, that death is always the worst alternative. Talking about death seems to dredge up deep anxiety about death.
On this All Saints Day, when we traditionally remember and honor the dead, the affirmation is clear: Death is not the end. Revelation 21:4, "Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more."
Linda Hanick wrote about her daughter, Erica, who came into this world blind. Later, grave medical problems developed. Erica was almost four when it became clear she was dying. Jack and Linda, Erica's parents, kept vigil at her hospital bedside, their prayers for her healing gradually becoming prayers for wisdom and acceptance.
Then Jack said, "Linda, we should do more than pray to God about Erica. We need to talk to Erica about God." Erica was afraid, afraid of dying. She seemed to be holding on to her parents because they were the surest love she knew.
Cupping her tiny hands, they told her that God's love was so much greater than theirs, and that she had to try to let go--let go of the hospital room, her bed, even them. "Where you are going is a safe place, more beautiful and full of love than anything you've ever known," they told her.
In Linda's mind she saw Erica running, skipping over emerald grass through fields of rainbow-colored flowers. Her golden hair blazed in the sunlight. Her voice was laughter, and her eyes were like the sky, cloudless and blue. She was no longer blind.
Linda was about to share her vision with Jack when Jack said, "You know, I just I had the strongest image. I saw Erica, so vividly, skipping and running across a field of beautiful flowers. She was laughing and her eyes were clear and blue as the sky." Together, simultaneously they had seen that death is not the end.
We are celebrating triumphantly this morning because of God's victory over death. We need not face our own deaths, nor the deaths of our loved ones, with fear, dread, terror, or anxiety. Death is not the end. Where we are going is a place more beautiful and full of love than anything we have ever known.
There are three phrases in the Apostles' Creed which proclaim the victory, which proclaim what we as Christians believe about death. Let the hope those words represent fill your heart and mind with faith and confidence. Sisters and brothers, we believe in "the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting."
A unique doctrine of Christianity, unlike most if not all other religions and philosophies, is the belief in the resurrection of the body. The gospels may differ in their accounts as to who the eye-witnesses were of the resurrected Christ, but they all agree that the witnesses saw a person. They saw a body. Jesus, the resurrected Christ, was in bodily form. Paul goes on at great lengths in his first letter to the Corinthians to describe the resurrection of the body. He used an analogy like planting seeds. A seed dies in the ground, but from it grows a vegetable or a tree, a new body. We are given new bodies. What we do to these physical bodies--bury or cremate--is incidental.
The resurrected Christ was recognized. Because he was in bodily form, and not a spirit or ghost, he was recognized. It is interesting how sometimes he was not immediately recognized, for various reasons, but eventually he was recognized. Because Jesus was recognized, I believe we will recognize one another. There will be a grand reunion in heaven when we all get there. You will recognize and be reunited with loved ones. We believe in the communion of saints, communion not just on this earth, but communion that transcends death.
Remember also what happened when the resurrected Christ appeared to his friends. His friends had more than a glimpse of him in a dark room, or on a shadowy stairway, or in the moonlight. They fellowshiped together. Jesus discussed the scriptures with two of them on the road to Emmaus, and they ate together. Jesus encouraged Mary in the garden. Jesus challenged Peter to show his love for him by feeding Jesus' sheep, by taking care of his followers. We believe in the communion of saints, the fellowship of saints. We will not just recognize one another in heaven, we will fellowship together. That is a comforting belief, but a belief with a twist. If relationships survive, we had better work on our relationships. Dying to get out of a bad relationship here on this earth, may not get you out of the relationship in heaven!
It is essential to develop and nurture relationships of love. Love is what survives. Hatred, fear, envy, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions will not survive. Paul was quite clear. None of these will inherit the kingdom of God. Perhaps that is what hell is. Remove hatred, fear, strife, envy, jealousy from some relationships and what is left? Nothing. Perhaps hell is nothing, just an empty shell. Consider also your relationship with God. Perhaps hell is the absence of a relationship with God, for how would one fellowship with God in heaven when there has been no fellowship with God, no relationship with God on this earth.
Remember also that the resurrected Christ ate with the disciples. They had charcoaled fish on the shore of Lake Galilee. Is this account mythical and fanciful, or is there a deep truth for us to grasp? The spiritual body is sensual. The spiritual body is not a wispy ghost. The spiritual body can touch, smell, taste. What makes this difficult for us to accept is that we have been conditioned by materialism. It is ingrained in us that only what is sensually experienced is real. We have separated spiritual from material as if they are too distinct entities. Dyed-in-the-wool materialists even deny the existence of the spiritual. We need to get our heads beyond materialism to what is called the post modern understanding of the universe.
Believing that spiritual bodies can eat fish means to me that we are not divisible into spiritual and material. Who we are as persons are inextricably interwoven with our bodies. How can you know me without my body? I am my body. I am more than my body, but what I am cannot be separated from my body. In other words, what survives our death is not something that is a part of us, like a soul, but all there is of you is what survives and is transformed into a spiritual body. You are what you think, feel, dream, all that you have experienced and learned. Except for physical pain and limitations, in heaven all there is of you will be there. Therefore, you will be recognizable and can have fellowship with one another and with God.
Communion of the saints is also a fellowship that transcends death even while we are yet here on this earth. The author of Hebrews told us we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Picture the saints, your loved ones, surrounding you, encouraging you, cheering you on.
Truly, death is not the end. We believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
© 1992 Douglas I. Norris