Thursday, February 1, 2007

Death and Faith

Death is part of the rhythm of life. Still, we often prefer to live in a kind of denial of its reality. The euphemisms we use for the end of life are many and betray our discomfort with its harsh edge. We accept death, for we have no choice. But is it only a a sense of resignation, of surrender to the inevitable?

As a pastor I live on the uncomfortable edge between life and death. Like all things in the world of faith it presents its own paradoxes, its own competing contrasts. With Paul I agree that death is the enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed. It is the result of sin according to the judgment of God. I see the pain in the faces of my people as they attempt to make sense out of the sudden confusion that death brings to their ordered lives. I understand when they say, "It's not fair." Even Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb in acknowledgment that this was not God's desire for his creation.

Still, I stand at the crossroads of life and death to witness that there is more. I stand beside the dying and the dead in silent resistance to its finality. I go into the homes where the sense of death is still fresh and I walk into its shadows to show that the psalmist was right: we need fear no evil in the valley of the shadow of death. God is with us. The living God has not abandoned us.

And as I stand beside the open grave to share the final words of committal, the chant is the chorus of life from the resurrection. It is pain and victory, with victory now taking the lead. "Christ is risen!" we say. "He is risen indeed." The ancient faith of a people who have known that death has found its ultimate end in Christ. Good Friday and Easter were ground zero. From that point the reality changes. We are people of an unstoppable hope.

This week I lost two dear members of my parish within three short days. One expected, one very much unexpected. I had fed these dear sheep and enjoyed their fellowship, and will miss their presence. There is an emptiness even for me. Yet in a few days I will stand before them to proclaim that life in Christ again. I will defy death. And I will pray that faith again finds the strength it seeks to heal and become whole again.