Here it is June, typically associated with summer vacations, weddings and Father’s Day. Death is usually not a theme for the month.
Yet death forced itself into my world twice during the week. The first death was completely an accident. The second death was inevitable.
Sometimes one must simply stop and address an issue that all too often is avoided. Death is simply part of life. Everyone of us will die. It is unavoidable.
The reading I have done these past few months includes death as one of the themes, but still one must process how death fits into one’s perspective about life.
The reading has forced me to review my personal outlook about death and I want everybody to know it is nothing of which to be afraid—from my perspective.
My understanding of death has not come from a near-death experience, nor has it come from academic research. My understanding developed from my family’s upbringing, my Christian upbringing.
Possibly growing up on a farm has helped me to grasp the reality of birth, life and death. I witnessed the life cycle of animals and plants, through the eyes of my parents. Life is a cycle; and when one cycle finishes, another begins.
I had my share of pets and all too often one would disappear. Maybe the most heart wrenching was the loss of our female collie. Dad received a complaint that she was teaching her pups to kill piglets. Out of respect, Dad took Lassie down to another location and shot her. I was devastated and years later I learned he was too. That was my first sense of absolute loss due to death and I was about 10 years old.
But, we had the puppies. Buffy was mine. He continued to be my life companion through those tough years of middle school and high school. He followed me all over the farm; he sat with me when I went out on the front porch and cried. And I went to college.
Life is a journey. We begin in the arms of our parents—if we are gifted with loving parents who care and nurture us, and we learn resiliency. We stumble and fall, we get back up and continue onward.
The journey is never easy, but with each destination that we reach, we grow. We discover joy, anger, passion, frustration, and any number of highs and lows.
My perception of the permanence of death became just part of the life journey. The experience with death as a child did not permanently damage my own life journey, I just continued.
Being raised in a Christian home did provide one element of teaching that may be missing in many homes: resurrection—being raised from the dead.
Never did I ever question that upon death, there was nothing more. Death was only a destination along life’s journey. The mystery of life after death, though, cannot be communicated in any definitive manner to eliminate the unknown, the mystery.
Along our life journey, we must do all that we can to understand the cause and effect of our life experiences. We must come to grips with our personal responsibility for each action whether good or bad. We must evaluate those actions against the Golden Rule: Does our action reflect that we honestly love one another as we want to be loved?
Fortunately, I did not have to grapple with that question very often as my parents and my church family did all that they could to make sure that I lived the Golden Rule until it became an automatic, internalized lifestyle.
And death was always part of the journey . . .
One of my elementary teachers died during the school year.
My friend was accidentally killed when a train struck her car just six months after our high school graduation.
My grandmother died during my junior college year.
Yet my journey continued, and still continues. Death is woven in and out of the years, and I still do not know the answer to the mystery. Instead, I have faith.
My readings support my awe over the mystery. The Old Testament is filled with death, yet not until the New Testament do we witness death as a destination, not an ending to life.
This week we follow our culture’s traditions that surround death. We experience the tragic loss of family, friend, neighbor. We recognize that our emotions are for our loss, not for the one who has reached that destination in their journey.
The scriptures, the books, the conversations, and the experiences I have delved have led me to anticipate the glory of this destination as I found reading Revelations 21:
The New Jerusalem
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
9 Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
10 So he took me in the Spirit[b] to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. 12 The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. And the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. 13 There were three gates on each side—east, north, south, and west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16 When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles.[c] 17 Then he measured the walls and found them to be 216 feet thick[d] (according to the human standard used by the angel).
18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass. 19 The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones:[e] the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.
21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.
22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. 27 Nothing evil[f] will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
[Accessed on June 11, 2019 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+21&version=NLT.]
Life is a journey, we have heard that analogy in so many different contexts; but this week I am convinced that the journey is far from over when death takes us from this earthly life and opens the door on life everlasting.