A Brief Pause Before the Fuller Thought
I sat with someone as they took their last breath yesterday. These are simultaneously strange and sacred spaces, where grief and relief and fear and faith weave in and out and among each other. We live and move in a culture that doesn’t really do death well. We mostly avoid it, keep it at arm’s length, outsource it, deny it. Death, even when it comes at the end of a long and faithful life, intrudes.
I brought along a book of liturgies for occasions of grief and dying yesterday. I thought it might come in handy, but I didn’t end up using it. As is so often the case in times of sorrow, simple presence matters more than words. But words do, eventually, have their place. I read these hope-filled words this morning:
Children of the Living God.
Let us now speak of dying,
and let us speak without fear,
for we have already died with Christ,
and our lives are not our own.
Our dying is part of the story
that God is telling to us,
and part of the story
that God is telling through us…
Yes, it is cause for lament. Death is
a horrible and inevitable sorrow.
It is grief. It is numb shock and
raw pain and long seasons of
weeping and ache. And we will
experience it as such.
But it is more than all of that.
For it is also a baptism,
a prelude to a celebration.
Our true belief that Christ has died
and was raised again
promises this great hope:
That there will be a newness of life,
a magnificent resurrection that
follows death and swallows it entirely…
Death is not a period that ends a sentence.
It is but a comma,
a brief pause before the fuller thought
unfolds into eternal life…
Have we not all along been
rehearsing Christ’s death and
his life in the sacrament of his
communion? We have been both
remembering and rehearsing
our union and reunion with him…
Yes, hate death!
It is an enemy—
but an enemy whose end approaches, and
whose assault can inflict no lasting wound.
Yes, weep and grieve!
But more than that, believe!
The veil is thinner than we know.
And death is thinner still.
It cannot hold any whose names are
dearly known to God. Rejoice in this!
Death is neither a grey void, nor
a dungeon cell—but a door.
And when Christ bids us
pass through at last,
we pass from life to Life.
The prayer and the image above are both taken from Every Moment Holy, vol. 2: Death, Grief and Hope.
I’m glad you were present with the person who passed away yesterday. Yes, the moment is indeed an intrusion and probably always has been. Thanks for the shared portion Every Moment Holy. Im referencing it – even though trying hard to downsize my library. 😉
Some thoughts become more relevant as a guy gets older!
It’s touching when a nurse listens for a heartbeat one more time, finds none, and says simply, “It’s quiet.” That’s a time for those at bedside to be quiet too. It’s good you were there to be a quiet comfort.
Indeed. Well said, Chris.