The certainty of our own mortality has intruded itself forcefully into the lives of many in this part of the country recently, with the tragic deaths of two firemen in Boston the other day (and you can be sure, fire fighters are just as much ministers of God as those of us who wear clerical robes). Also, the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing is coming soon, during Holy Week in fact.
On a more personal note, old friends have recently made known their own brushes with mortality and how the afflictions of age are becoming more and more difficult to ignore, as has also proven to be too true for myself as well.
Finally, two friends of mine have died this week, one an old and dear friend from childhood, stricken down much too early in life following a very brief and devastating illness, much to the shock and dismay of her young students and the community where she lived. The second was a co-worker whom I’d known as a young man: she was always with a ready laugh and smile, dying after a long battle with a serious illness. Both great people, and both very much loved by the many whom their lives touched over the years.
Mortality does not play favorites, and (as my father has often said) “there is no get out of jail free card” – no exceptions. We will all someday confront the same dark horizon that these wonderful people (and so many others) have already passed beyond: never to return from the darkness that will eventually devour all lives, all nations and all human hope.
And yet, we should not forget the very first verses in the Hebrew Scriptures…
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
All was darkness, formless and empty. Nothing existed, and yet – in that darkness that was blacker and emptier and therefore more hopeless than any that will ever be seen again, God was there. God was there before there was any light and before anything at all. God created light. God created us, God provided for us, and God loves us. Nothing would exist but for the love and presence of God in that darkness, and – ever since – within us.
And so, with a God like that, what is there to fear?
Yes, we will die.
And yes, death is an experience none of us look forward to with any sense of joy or eager anticipation. But ultimately, death means going forth into a darkness that is already filled with the presence of God.
So, while I am in no rush to leave this life (and I hope and pray you feel the same) I am certain that crossing that horizon into the unknown darkness beyond is not the end, though it will be a painful parting for us and all who know and love us.
Jesus is described in the Gospel of John as Immanuel – God with us – and John assures us that God is (and will be) with us, for all time.
Life is a gift: relish it, including all the peaks and valleys that go with it, knowing that you are in the hands of God, for now and forevermore.
In closing, I ask that you ponder words written nearly three thousand years ago by a person who clearly understood the beauty of life, the tragedy of death and the Grace of God…
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)