Lately, I have been thinking about death. Last week I presided over the funeral of a father, a mother and a son who died together in a house fire. It was a very sorrowful situation. Yet as I said in my sermon, these were three loving, wonderful people. They cared for others, respected their neighbors, loved their children, took in many foster children, and died being loved by many, many people. Even as they grieve, I said to the family, I hoped they could also find a bit space for rejoicing at the gift of having had such people in their lives.
I have been thinking about death. It is hard to fathom that a person who is utterly unique in history can suddenly cease to exist. The idea that someone who occupied space in the world and in the lives of others and who is irreplaceable can be forever gone. People of faith trust that at the end of this earthly life, the essence of who we are (the soul, the spirit) continues to exist in some sort of eternal life. However, if we believe Jesus, he says that eternal existence is unlike our present existence (cf, Mk. 12:25). We will be “like angels in heaven.” And in spite of millions of attempts to do so, we really have no idea what an “angel” might be like or what the life of one such might be like. The word “angelos” in Greek means “messenger” which is perhaps a rather different idea of angelic existence than may immediately come to mind. So whatever eternal life might be, it is something wholly other, something completely outside our human experience.
Nevertheless, when I speak about deceased loved ones in a funeral sermon, I do so using human imagery because it is what we understand. I talk about the beloved dead doing the same things in heaven that they loved to do on earth and I tell the families that their loved ones are whole and well and restored. And I tell them that they are peace and resting in the arms of God. All these physical descriptors are my poor attempt to offer comfort to a grieving family, but they are also an acknowledgement that we simply do not know the nature of eternity with God.
Here is what we do believe and trust: that what awaits us after death is of God; that God is a God of love and mercy and grace; and that eternal life—whatever that means—will be good, even if we cannot fully comprehend what that goodness might be like.
I have been thinking about death. I confess I’m not looking forward to it with joy, but I do think that when all is said and done, it will be good.