I have a funeral to attend. I have to face the inescapable; the naked truth of the human condition cannot be ignored when a funeral interrupts the routines of life. Ever been there? Ever had to face the fact that the organic nature of earth-living always involves earth-dying?
Strange question to ask, isn’t it? We all know, intellectually, that death is a fact of life, but when a loved one dies the truth plunges eighteen inches from head to pierce heart. What do we do about it? Mourn? Yes. Grieve? Of course. Anything else?
The Psalmist has a few thoughts to express on death that are worth considering: “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow”(Psalm 116). Yes, it sounds like the Psalmist knew the angst of the human condition too.
He didn’t stop there, though, as too many of us do. He didn’t shove the heart-rending truth of life’s great tragedies out of heart and into the recesses of mind. He did something that is still available to us two millennia later: He prayed.
“I called on the name of the LORD: ‘O LORD, save me!’” he recalls. Very simple. Calling on the name of the LORD does something deeper than organic to us who are in the throes of this problem of death. It moves the difficulty into the realm of the soul, where the core of our being, our will, is involved. To pray is to connect with our Maker on the soul level. To pray right is to turn our will in alignment with the great Will of God.
The Psalmist describes himself in this condition as simplehearted, observing, “The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.” This is not to say that the organic drift of earth-living toward earth-dying is thwarted; that can never be. But something of greater importance can happen at the soul level. Listen to what he says.
“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death…” The Psalmist has revealed something like balm for our weary eyes and salve for our aching hearts. He has shown us the plan of God for all humanity, the gist of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in those few words: earth-dying is not an end.
Someone once described it in terms of an infant being forced to leave the comfort of the womb where all she knows seems to be coming to a traumatic end. The merciless contractions of the walls of her existence force her through a dark tunnel of unmatched confusion. She feels the cords of death entangling her and the anguish of the grave is upon her. Then suddenly, light appears. Light and sound, breath and smell surround her. Warm hands clasp her and place her against the skin of one she will later call Mother. She drinks her first draft of warm sweet Mother’s-milk and rests. The old life is over; the new one is incredibly bigger.
I think when the Psalmist goes on to say “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” he is saying the word ‘death’ tongue in cheek. He has learned that turning the soul’s will toward God, accepting the humiliation of needing God’s saving work, is a new kind of life, and is incredibly meaningful to the Father of our souls. He awaits our arrival in the vast environment of eternity like an earthly mother does her infant at childbirth.
So the funerals will continue to happen. Earth-dying will be the end of every earth-life. But for those who choose to admit their soul needs a Savior, God’s plan through His Son Jesus is a birthing. It’s a choice we each make. Pull out a Bible and see if it’s not true. There’s an amazing birth waiting on the other side of death.
(Photo Credit: Gobonobo, Wikimedia Commons)