Boudreaux and Rupert are out in the woods doin’ some squirrel hunting when Rupert suddenly collapses. Ol’ Boudreaux checks him over and Rupert doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are starting to glaze over, so Bourdreaux whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “I think Rupert is dead! What can I do?” The 911 operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” Boudreaux says, “Ok. Hang on.” There is a silence; then the 911 operator hears a gun shot. Boudreaux then gets back on the phone and says, “OK, now what?”
In the Fantastic Voyage: Destination Brain, the great science fiction author, Isaac Asimov wrote, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” (Especially if you’ve got friends like Boudreaux who might hurry it along!) When you begin to obsess over that “troublesome” part, it can turn into thanatophobia, which is the fear of death. No, I’m not going to get all morbid on you by talking solely about death, but the topic is a bit unavoidable given our lessons for today. And it was that first lesson that actually explains why it is troublesome and even our fear of death. I don’t normally do this, but it is short enough, so I want to read it to you again, because it is from the Apocrypha and we don’t hear it too often (as you know, we consider the writings of the Apocrypha to be good in providing examples of life and teaching, but not the inspired word of God). Solomon writes:
“God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.
“God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.”
(Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24)
Why is dying troublesome to some and why do we have this fear of death? Because “God did not make death… God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity.”
I think I’ve told you this before, but so many will tell you that “Dying is a part of living” or “Death is natural.” No! God did not make death. Dying and death are the most unnatural things we do. It is why we fight it so hard, do all we can to extend our lives, hurt for others when they are dying or losing loved one. Death is anything but natural, so how did it come about? We understand the fall in the Garden of Eden and how sin entered, but Solomon, in the same chapter of Wisdom as our reading, expands on that:
“The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with him,
because they are are fit to belong to his company.”
(Wisdom of Solomon 1:16)
What did the ungodly do? According to Solomon, they looked only to themselves, fulfilling their every desire while neglecting and oppressing those who were weaker. They rebelled against God, turning on his Holy One. And so through those words and deeds, they invited death into the world and condemned themselves, and in the process they dragged the righteous down with them, even the twelve year old daughter of Jarius that we read about in our Gospel. Just as the sun rises on the evil and the good / the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45), so does death come to all, but that is where the equality ends, because from there the ungodly receive their punishment, but the righteous, Solomon tells us:
“Those who trust in [the Lord] will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.”
(Wisdom of Solomon 3:9)
The righteous will abide with God and he will speak to them in a similar way as Jesus spoke, “Little girl, get up.” “Get up,” he will say to them, because you were not made for death or corruption. Get up, “you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) For the us, there really is only one bit of trouble with all this (and maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I don’t think so): I’m nowhere near as innocent as a twelve year old and I know in my heart that I’m not one of the righteous. (I could… not going to… but I could give you the names of more than a few that would be more than happy to attest to it!) I am not one of the righteous: I do try—Lord knows I do—but through my words and my deeds, I’m one who has summoned death, so how can I even think to hear him speak those words, “Get up!” Answer: because in my heart, I have this hope, this faith that speaks into that potential despair and says, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
If I did not believe that were true, I would not be standing here today. If I thought that I was beyond the saving grace of Jesus, I truly would give myself over to being the “ungodly,” for without this hope, I know that I would be condemned forever, but I do have hope, this faith that speaks to my soul and tells me I will hear those words: Get up and enter, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Go in peace and be raised up from death.
The anthem from the beginning of the burial rite:
“I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever. —and a few lines further—
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.”
(Book of Common Prayer, p.491)
“Do not fear, only believe.” We may sleep, but he will awaken us. That is the message for us all. It is not a message of death, but of life eternal.
Let us pray (adapted from Psalm 16:8-11):
Gracious Father, we set you always before us;
because you are at our right hand, we shall not be shaken.
Therefore our hearts are glad, and our bodies rejoice;
for our flesh dwells secure in your loving embrace.
You will not abandon our souls in death,
or let them taste corruption.
You make known to us the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.