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The Topic of Death - Absent from the Pulpit
So Much Death, So Much Loss
Death Is NO ONE's Friend
Those who today mourn the loss of someone dear, no matter the cause or the age; death was not a friend but an enemy of their peace, happiness and even their physical / mental health. Even for those of us who do NOT grieve as one without Hope; I am sorry, it is a painful and anguishing ordeal; Christ has removed the sting but as long as we tarry in these mortal bodies grief is an unwanted intruder into our lives. When we view the Normandy cemeteries and the thousands of markers, this does not even come close to the millions of lives these deaths impacted in both deed and death. No personal relationship could or would ever consider the death of their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, in-laws, classmates, neighbors, teachers, police, firemen, pastors and every other relationship we too often take for granted, as a welcomed event. Look at the Normandy picture again and realize that every cross is for someone whose death impacted in many cases, hundreds of lives: there are tens of thousands of these graves and the number of lives touched is a staggering amount. In much of "small town" America, whole cities grieved.
I remember watching on TV the casket procession through Washington D.C. for JFK and how so much of the nation was brought to their knees in grief. More recently, following the events of 9/11 we learned much of the far reaching affect the deaths of over 3,000 lives impacted our whole of life. Churches realized a temporary spike in attendance and as a nation we became more fearful of the future as we have given much of our personal civil liberties away for the pseudo-peace, an empty peace that NO earthly government could ever truly guaranty.
Flowers for the Living
The Solemn Sound of Taps
Why Do We Go Anyway?
Often there is a an abundance of flowers at a funeral service. Obviously the deceased knows nothing of the flowers nor has the ability to enjoy their beauty and fragrance. They are for the living, a symbol of hope that not all is lost at death. I don't know of any person that would relish going to anyone's funeral in lieu having a normal day without having their attention drawn to such a depressing affair. There are many reasons one must go to another's "last rites":
- It is an immediate family member whom you will actually miss...
- Out of love and respect for the one suffering loss...
- Because you do not want to appear disrespectful to other family members, neighbors or business associates...
- Because you were dragged there...
I am sure there are a multitude of reasons a person will attend a funeral but as in my case; my first funeral was because I was to provide a service at the graveside.
My First Funeral
At age 14, as a member of a local drum and bugle corps, I was paid to perform taps at a veterans funeral. The funeral director had me stand at some distance under a tree but directly in front of the foot of the casket. Being my first funeral, I was quite taken aback when I noticed that the rather large group which was seated in a horseshoe arrangement around the grave with what obvious to me, the wife of the deceased at the head of the casket, was that they were talking in a very animate and cheerful manner. Wow, I had always thought that funerals were extremely sad affairs. The funeral director gave me the cue to play and the illusion of cheerfulness disappeared in a nano-second on the FIRST note: the wife screamed, dove onto the casket and was accompanied by an ever increasing chorus of crying, sobbing and out-and-out wailing. I was shaken to my very core and I as I continued on with Taps, I began to cry and Taps came out extremely emotional, to which the funeral director complimented me on such a wonderfully played piece. I vowed there and then, I never wanted to do that again. As a member of the Marine Corps band years later I had many opportunities to play Taps but never under similar conditions; I kept my vow.
The Truth Is Seldom Welcomed
Tell Me A Lie...Please!
There are only three things that those who do NOT possess the Hope of eternal life want from their attendance at another's funeral:
- That their appearance will gain them some respect among family, friends and acquaintances.
- They will hear NO condemnation of the deceased but praise only; knowing their day is coming and with it the "hoped for" praises.
- They will hear words from the "professional" holy men who should possess the "inside" knowledge that in the end...ALL will be well.
I have been present at my parents and my siblings funerals, being the youngest, I am the only one left of the nine. Of these funerals, only one, my oldest brother, was centered around the Truth; the rest were empty, being lead by one without personal hope, giving false hope to those who attended the services. The lies flow so easily from their lips for how can one who tries to deal with death sate their own terrifying fear of what lies next. Some of the lies I heard:
- She, my sister, is no longer in pain. As when the rich man said to Abraham, please send one to warn my brothers, I am sure my sister today would wish two things: 1) that she had remained in her bed of sickness for as the Word states - "..hope is joined to the living" and 2) that she could warn her surviving children and grandchildren. It so foolish to believe that one's pain disappears with death. The body may die but the soul has been created to feel suffering far beyond what mortal man could conceive and without hope, knowing that it will only get worse.
- Harry, my father, was a great father (he really was and my hero during my childhood), a great civic leader and a loving husband to the end; as if this was a pass from having to pay for his own sins. My father mocked Christianity and when he died only my oldest brother and I were with him in the end. Fear kept all the rest at bay: like ostriches with their heads buried in the ground. God has placed eternity in the hearts of man and we may choose to callus our hearts to this Truth but in the end fear proves differently. Works and / or stature within society means NOTHING to God if one is outside of Christ and His saving work.
Doctor Death, Kevorkian was one for easing the pain of the suffering but will be tried in heaven's courts as a murderer as even now the legal system has allowed family members to relieve themselves of the burden of caring for a loved?? one by signing away their right to live. My mother aspirated in surgery at age 92 and was given a 50/50 chance to pull out of it. My older brothers and sisters out voted me and took upon themselves to have the doctors pull the plug on a woman that at her age that was very spry and loving lucid with all, especially her myriads of grandchildren. Interesting that every one of my siblings died with the nastiest of cancers and leukemia in the case of my oldest sister.
A simple formula concerning works: Works without saving Faith = Eternal Death.
Nothing But the Blood of Jesus!
Death Has NO Dominion Over ME!
It was around New Year's Eve in 1967 that Death made a valiant attempt to take me. I kissed my then fiancé goodbye as a boarded a twin prop commuter flight from Pasco, WA to Portland, OR. It was in blizzard conditions and just a few minutes after takeoff, the pilot announced we would be making a quick stop at small airport in central WA. No one thought anything of it until a few minutes later when we bone jarringly slammed down on the runway. It was strange as we could see nothing out of our windows and reasoned that it was really foggy wherever we had landed. After about two hours the 3 to 4 inches of ice that had covered our entire plane fell off on to the tarmac and we could see that it was a perfectly clear evening. The pilot could not have turned the plane to return to Pasco as we were falling out of the sky but "coincidently" perfectly lined up with this airport's runway. After another hour or so we were fully de-iced and taking off in an easterly direction so that this large of a plane could bank and make the steep ascent over the Cascades is where things got worse. As we were climbing, first one engine quit and as the pilot struggled for control the second engine quit. For the second time that night we were falling out of the sky and everyone on board knew it. I was not a Christian but I remember calmly looking out the window and saying out loud, goodbye mom, goodbye dad, goodbye fiancé; I was about to die and there was nothing I could do about it. Knowing now that my name was written in the Lamb's Book of Life, God took matters into His own hands. As each engine started coming back to life and we pulled out having missed the treetops by a hundred feet or so, I then realized then that twice that night I had been spared from disaster. First I felt as if I was living a charmed life but the next few months while in the Marines proved this was not the case. In September of 1968 I was introduced to the Savior and the reason for my survival was not luck, chance or personal fortitude but because of the love my God for a sinner such as I.
As man's enemy, Death, stands at my door; I fear him not. Dying is not a joyous thought in itself but Paradise sounds pretty nice to me. It is my Lord and my family for which I now live and will do so until the day appointed for me or the rapture of the real Church. My days are numbered and I need to learn NOT to look back in disappointment at my many failures but in the lessons I have learned that I might be more useful to my God in these last days.