The loss of a typical progression of dying, the loss of chaplain bedside presence, these are also fatalities of this disease, impacting doctors daily.
It may seem counter-intuitive to consider church history in any discussion of outbreak, pandemic, or plague; we live in an era of hazmat suits, microbiology, and gallons of gelatinous hand sanitizer. But while our approach to disease containment and pathology is far different than you would find in rural Germany in the 1500’s, there is profound wisdom and perspective in reflecting on the posture of faith communities in our past.
“What do you mean, that’s not my father? Those are the hands that cared for me. Those are the arms that took me up and hugged me. Those are the lips that spoke to me; the eyes that searched for me; the chest on which I fell asleep, knowing I was safe in his care. Everything I have ever known of my father was through this body. Don’t tell me that’s not him.”
How do you preach funeral sermons?
So, why do we make this annual trek to mark Jeremy’s birth, death, Christmas, Easter and other special occasions? I guess somehow in the ritual of the rhythm of returning to the grave we find comfort as we remember. We seek closure. We find consistency. We seek to make sense out of a situation that otherwise makes little to no sense.
The bells that tolled, according to John Donne, were a sign to those who heard that we are all mortal and meet the same end known as death; that when one dies a part of all of us dies. The stone that rolled, according to Matthew, was a sign to those who witness it that the end known as death is not, in fact, the end. And therefore, it is okay to send for whom the stone rolls. It rolls for thee! The stone rolls for us! And when we hear the sound of the stone rolling, it rings in our ears that the main thing that draws nearer to us is not death, but resurrection! Triumphant grace! Grace that declares death doesn’t have the final word. But that one day there will be no more crying, no more death…
“Despite my excellent undergraduate education preparing me for Christian ministry, despite my thoroughly-enjoyed seminary training, I don’t remember any discussions on how to provide pastoral care during a plague. Of all people, though, Christians must be conversant in the language of mortality, fluent in the evils of death and the beauty of resurrection, articulate in tragedy and triumph. What else is the rhythm of the church year for, but to practice us in the art of living the pattern of Kingdom life, of Christ-life, of birth, death, and resurrection? We must talk of these things if we have any hope of acting on them, putting hands to ideas. We must all find our inner Mother Teresa and touch the dying – even if you choose to wear three layers of gloves.”
“From very early on Christians buried their dead near their places of worship. Where others placed their dead outside of cities and avoided such sites, Christians often celebrated the anniversaries of the death of their martyrs with the Lord’s Supper. Oftentimes this celebration was held at the place where the martyr was buried. Soon, many churches included the bones of the martyrs within the church building. Since death was not the final word about our bodily existence, it didn’t need to be something fearful. Christians understood that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord and there was no place where the Lord was more present than in the community gathered for worship. The understanding was that in Christ all are one.”
…More than once these last days, we have felt the absence of the presence of God. But, in that overwhelming feeling that turns us upside down and breaks us in two, we find ourselves with Jesus on the cross, out of control and crying – “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken us,” quoting Psalm 22.
Do you die at peace with your God, at peace with others, at peace with yourself? Do you die with a weathered faith that murmurs, ‘til the end, “I know that my Redeemer lives…”? Do you die with the taste of communion bread in your mouth? … Do you die, knowing that soon, your tomb will be full, but that The Tomb That Matters Is Empty? Do you die with curiosity about what it feels like to caper with Triune Eternity?