I'm around death a lot. I'm a pastor. I have stood with countless families by the casket in the cemetery, in the chapel, or out on the church site (as I did with Bill and Laura Lockey Wednesday afternoon at a memorial service for Bill's dad) as we have given loved ones over to God's eternal care and keeping. I'm around death a lot. But my understanding of death has changed forever due to the courage, determination, faithfulness, and trust exemplified by so many of the saints we have laid to rest. The witness of their faith in the process of dying has led me to interpret my own life in a remarkably different way.
It's often been cancer, or more recently Covid-19, that would come to claim the earthly body, but neither illness nor even death has ever been able to claim one's inner self. Oftentimes, in one's last earthly days, I've sensed that his or her spirit is actually soaring and ascending to the heavenly reaches which we can only envision when we let our imaginations contemplate what eternity might be like. At such times, my response can only be spoken through tears, not words. Because death is so limited. It cannot invade the soul. It cannot quench the human spirit. It cannot steal eternal life.
Sometimes, following my visits to the hospital, I would head back home thinking, "At least our patient is still in the land of the living." However, I've slowly come to realize that I've had it backwards. Life on this earth is really the land of the dying. Our loved ones, as they near death, are actually preparing to go to the land of the living. Someday, they will be among the saints waiting to greet us there -- for heaven truly is the land of the living.
As we watch over and care for our loved ones in their last earthly days, maybe we should remember they are not dying as much as they are preparing to live. For Bill Lockey's dad, and for all who have passed over into heaven during the year 2020 due to Covid-19 or other causes, they have discovered that, on the other side of death, there is life. For them now, and for all the company of heaven, death is a past experience. Their lives are far more complete, more whole, and more vibrant than any of ours; because, after all, we're consigned for now to the land of the dying. But they will have moved on to inhabit their special place in the land of the living.
In the name of the One who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
Bruce Jones, Pastor and Co-Creator,
Imagine Church of the Carolinas