Sunday, May 22, 2011

Precious Life, Precious Death

"Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Ps. 116:15 , ESV)

    The few weeks since my last post have been eventful with a number of 'firsts' - I bought car insurance for my first car for the first time, drove it for the first time with my first full tank of gas, failed my first driving test in Canada, ordered flowers for one special woman for the first time and gave a rose to another (also the first time), had my laptop battery fail after two-and-a-half years of operation. But in the midst of all that, I have still been contemplating the train of thought that I began in 'One Life Blossoms, Another Departs'. I guess this is becoming a year where God is having me contemplate life, death, mortality, meaning and teaching me important lessons through all of it.

    Recollecting the above verse in the process of thinking, I went back to a sermon that I had listened to on the morning of the memorial service for Jamie's grandmother. Delivered at Willingdon in 2004 by John Neufeld, it was titled 'The Precious Event of A Believer's Death' and covered the death of Abraham's wife Sarah in Genesis 23, and his mourning for her. It was riveting right from the beginning, with these sentences among those of its opening paragraph:

"Whenever I do a marriage ceremony I always make sure the married couple understands the words 'until death do us part'. See, I want every married couple here to understand that if Jesus delays His coming, one of you will go on ahead of the other, and the other will be left behind. That is the way of this world...What should we do when a loved one dies?...Death is the great certainty of life."

    "Do you know, that the day of your death is a very precious day to God?" Pastor John's question stopped me in my tracks. I had never thought of it like that before. He continued: "The hour of your dying is precious to the Lord, because in that hour He will call you home for that which you have been created. The great inheritance for which God made you, is not on this earth, it's in glory, that great inheritance will be yours in the final day."

    At this point I have to stop and deal with the question that grows ever louder in my mind:

Why is it so important that the day of my passing matters to someone?

    Last year, during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, I had attended an art exhibition showcasing representative BC art at the Vancouver Art Gallery. A parallel exhibition occurring there at the same time used the human body as its subject. Among the displays were ones that used a complete skeleton, skulls of various sizes and x-ray images of the body's skeletal structure. I remember thinking about my own body as I looked at those exhibits, reflecting on how  one day it too would be placed in the ground, and reduced to what I saw in front of me.

    The thought that one's own family and friends will miss and think about us is sometimes of small consolation, for we are ever cognizant that they too will inevitably go down the same road we ourselves must take. As we contemplate mortality in such moments, there is an aching want that steals up upon the human heart, an insatiable plea that our life would be valued and the memory of our days would be known and preserved, in some manner that is not hamstrung by forgetfulness, inaccuracy, imprecision, confusion, corruption all the other failings of memory that plague the human cerebral cortex.

    We want someone to never forget us, in whose memory our image is indelibly and permanently etched. We long to be seen even after we have gone.
    In the light of this cry of the soul, I am reminded of the following unshakable promises of the Word of God, reflecting on the overarching presence of the self-existent, everlasting God who stands unfettered by age, and death and decay:

    "Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
      you hold my right hand.
    You guide me with your counsel,
      and afterward you will receive me to glory.
    Whom have I in heaven but you?
      And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
      but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
- Psalm 73:23-26, ESV
    It is inexpressable comfort to know that this great God calls Himself my Father, my friend, my Saviour; that He walks with me on my short sojourn through this life, sighing with me through the times when it seems wearisome to put one foot in front of the other, laughing at the moments of joy and wonder; that He does it all knowing that He will be waiting with open arms to welcome me home at the end of the sprint through the valley called Death, and that He has planned not only every day of my life with Him here, but also of every day of the eternity that we will spend together. But most of all there is security in knowing that in the same manner He said of His people, the memory of all that I am, of all my being, my image and all my days are permanently etched into His hands, His being:

    "Can a woman forget her nursing child,
      that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
    Even these may forget,
      yet I will not forget you.
    Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
      your walls are continaully before me."
- Isaiah 49:15-17, ESV

    God remembers the day of my passing long after I have faded from this world, for it is the day He welcomes me home. My life, my essence, my being is preserved even on the other side of death because of the sheer force of His will and power. See you in the next post after I've done some processing on what I've just written. And if you have lost hope, please take some of mine.

- The Wisdom Seeker