"I am not worried about that. My death is scheduled."My friend Rebeca made an observation about something slightly "out-there" risky and the above was the first thing out of my mouth. My second thought internally was "Yes, that is true. My death - everyone's death - is scheduled." It's not a new thought, but it's one that most people find intimidating and scary. Why? Because death is the crossing from here to the relative unknown. Death is our entrance into the truest of realities; our escape from the "inverse-dream."
Today is September 11th.While I will never forget what I saw on the tv 13 years ago, I will also never forget what it did to our culture. Sermon illustrations. Terrorism. Life, love, and earthly separation. 9/11 has become our country's freshest defining wound. I will not minimize Pearl Harbor or D-Day. Nor the death of JFK. Like 9/11, those are all deeply painful moments in our cultural psyche in which every individual awake and alive at that time has a collective mental snapshot of the exact moment they heard of the event.
Unlike those events however, 9/11 is the greatest single brutal loss of civilian life Americans have ever experienced ever.And yet our deaths are scheduled. How do we as a country sharing mutual heartbreak process the idea that our deaths are scheduled. Hebrews 9 says "as it is appointed for man to die once." Ecclesiastes talks about a "time to die." Not exactly a popular highschool catchphrase. Unless maybe you're in a black metal band. In which case we need to pray for you. As a young girl, I marveled at the dramatic prophecies of Revelation. And I've never forgotten this passage:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
One is a sacrificial way of life; the other is a sacrificial way of death.If you think about it ... the two are actually the same. So besides 9/11, what brings me to this topic of death today? Why do I reflect on the power of this life's necessity - the only escape plan from our present reality? Perhaps it's because I feel called to give a meaningful death. Like the program on Paul Harvey:
"And now, the rest of the story ... "There's something about the way a person dies - the "how" process within their soul - that qualifies the entirety of their life in an extremely powerful way. Some faithful servants of the Lord, drift into His arms after many years of sacrificial walking and serving for Him. Others find their lives "cut short" by our standards. In hospital rooms. On the highway. In torture chambers. And yet if God is the one who gives the increase - and by that I mean the fruitful return of souls to Himself by the nurturing loving kindness of the Holy Spirit - who are we to weigh the fruitfulness of a person's life?
Who are we to measure the "completeness" of another servant's work?The trustworthy King of Glory is the only all-seeing / all-understanding judge of things such as these: human lives lived in extreme and varying degrees of faithfulness, context, and culture. Only God knows the true faithfulness within the hidden heart. Only Christ sees the silent devotion that no other soul can see or perceive.
So if our lives are weighed and measured by the all-knowing, all-powerful Almighty God, who are we to determine the completeness of our lives?We cannot know these things. We are simply called to be faithful. Living unto death. Dying unto life. Sacrifice for glory. This is our joy. It's a fascinating dichotomy. In one verse, the writer will praise God for His protection, salvation, and gift of life. In another verse, the writer will acknowledge this "purpose of death" in the followers life. No where else is this quite so vivid as Psalm 116. Verse 8 - 9:
For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.And yet there is the sudden jolt of Verse 15:
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.Where does this come from??? This seemingly random reference to separation of body and soul while only moments before we were celebration "the land of the living"? For what it's worth, Psalm 116 ends by the writer affirming "O LORD, I am your servant ... you have loosed my bonds." There is freedom in this way of death. This sacrificial life of Intentional Servanthood.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!What is this inexplicable joy? What are these vows which the writer wishes to express in front of God and everybody? Well, from my understanding, there are two kinds of death referenced in Psalm 116. Jump back to the beginning at verse 3:
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”It is in the beginning of this Psalm that the writer cries out to escape a certain kind of death - the death of his soul. Later in verse 13, he praises:
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LordOther verses within this chapter substantiate the escape of the writer's soul from eternal death. For following the "death of his (the LORD's) saints," the writer exalts in the knowledge that he will live on. His soul has been saved and he will live on.
This is why we must be acquainted with death.
For if we do not escape the near certain dying of our soul, the death of our body will only seal our fate. But who is most secure in this situation? Those who have embraced the death of their body and asked to be freed from the death of their soul.
Jesus died on the cross so our sins might be forgiven and that our soul could live on.This brings our theological journey to my other favorite verse in Revelation:
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Humbling it is to escape. And yet so much freedom.