I was in high school when I first “experienced” death. A young man in my school was hit by a car and killed. I had known him, but not well. We went to a Who concert once and shared musical tastes. I was sad that he had died. But I didn’t know what to do with that sadness.
That would be only the first of many experiences with death. My maternal grandfather died while I was in high school, my paternal grandfather died during my first year of seminary. My cousin (also hit by a car) also died when I was a seminary student. And my maternal grandmother died after I had been a parish pastor for two years.
Being a parish pastor now for 17 years, I’ve experienced death quite a lot. I’ve presided or assisted at well over 200 funerals. I’ve prayed and cried with families and watched as a son, daughter, mother, father, or grandparent closed their eyes for the last time. I’ve held the hand of a brother pastor as he drew his last, labored breath. The hardest death was that of a four year old who died in a farming accident. He wasn’t a member of my parish, but his pastor was overseas on a mission trip. What made it hard was that he was the same age as my youngest son at the time and looked a lot like him.
Death is hard on the living. It seems to be easier for some who are dying. Recently I was making regular visits with a woman who was dying of a brain tumor. She constantly told me that she was ready to die. She would miss her family and husband – very much! But was more than ready to go to heaven and be with her Lord and Savior Jesus. She even exhibited a little impatience toward the end, she was that ready.
But the death of someone we love is hard on us. I’ve counseled parents, trying to comfort them in their grief, that while a parent is not built to bury their own children, we have a God who knows exactly what they are going through. And God not only knows how they feel, He actually does something about it!
God doesn’t abolish death, but rather transforms it by defeating it!
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became of human being in order to defeat death. He defeated death by dying Himself for the sins of all the world for all time. Sure and certain defeat came through the supreme victory of His glorious resurrection from the dead. Jesus died once and for all and He will never die again.
And neither will those who have faith in Jesus! Holy Baptism is when a person is baptized in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If we have been united with Jesus in a death like His (through baptism) we can be absolutely assured that we will be united with Jesus in a resurrection like His!
So how should we look at death today? This is very much at the forefront of my thinking most mornings because I wake up to this view:
Is this a field of dead people? Well, that’s one way of looking at it. But I prefer to look at this view as Martin Luther did.
“When we die, this does not really mean death but seed sown for the coming summer. And the cemetery does not indicate a heap of the dead, but a field full of kernels, known as God’s kernels, which will verdantly blossom forth again and grow more beautifully than can be imagined.” [Martin Luther, Lectures on 1 Timothy, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works 28, (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 28:178.]
A field awaiting the final harvest. Death is not the end. It is a sowing of a crop that will be harvested by angels on the last day, at the last trumpet sound!
Yes, death is a sad thing. But for me and for many, many Christians it is not a devastating thing. It is a transformation from this life of tears, fears and sorrows to the eternal life with Jesus where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, and no more death.