2009-08-07 / Faith

Shepherds Corner

Share your thoughts on death

George Benard Shaw, an Irish playright once said, "the statistics on death are quite impressive, one out of one people die". It is very true that the experience of death is difficult to avoid, as this old middle-eastern story illustrates: A wealthy merchant in Baghdad one day sent his servant to the marketplace to secure provisions for the household. In a little while the servant returned, shaking and trembling, his face pale with fright. "What's wrong?" asked the merchant. "Master," cried the servant,

"I just now met Death in the marketplace, and when Death saw me, he raised his arm to strike me. I am afraid and I must escape. Let me borrow your fastest horse, and I shall flee to Samara." The merchant consented, and the servant rode swiftly to the city of Samara. After the servant had departed, the merchant himself went to the market. He, too, saw Death, and going boldly up to him, said, "Death, why did you raise your hand to strike my servant in the marketplace today?" "I meant him no harm," answered Death, "that was a gesture of surprise for seeing him here in Baghdad for I have an appointment with him tonight in the city of Samara." God's word, more direct, expresses the same truth. "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment."

The thoughts I share today are not just from my experience as a pastor, but also from being a Hospice Chaplain. Through this experience I have learned many things. I've seen first hand the truth expressed in the book of Proverbs, of the three things which the book speaks of that are never satisfied, one of them is the grave. Death happens to everyone, it is so much a part of life, it is happening all around us constantly, yet, it still seems to be somewhat hidden in our society. It still seems to be something that is unfamiliar, a subject rarely talked about, and one that brings up intense emotions which many are not comfortable with. I've always seen death like being close to a spiritual doorway. Scripture makes it very clear in the chapter of 1Corinthians that there are different kinds of bodies. There is a physical body, and there is also a spiritual body. For a time, the two walk hand in hand. Death is a time when the physical lets go of the spiritual, and the spiritual body takes a step though a doorway which we cannot see. I've had the absolute privilege to walk with many people through their experience with death, right up to the doorway. I never cease to be touched by their courage, insight, the support of family and loved ones, or maybe the staff of a nursing home. There are certainly sad elements which are part of the experience of death, but the elements that inspire far out weigh those which sadden.

As a chaplain, I support people of all faiths or no faith during this time, so I speak now as a pastor not as a Hospice Chaplain, when I say that what makes the teachings of Jesus so unique and beautiful is that we are not judged according to our works, how good we've been. It is based entirely on faith, not faith in works, or a religion, but faith in a loving, gracious God. A God who provided a way for us to be forgiven of all futile attempts to live our lives on our terms, through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus.

Jesus takes anyone through that spiritual doorway who has put there trust in Him, anyone. You may or may not share that belief, but what I encourage you to do is to not keep death a silent subject. Consider bringing it up with a trusted family member, friend, or minister/rabbi. Share your thoughts as awkward as they may be, do not argue, just talk. Death will happen, you cannot change that. But you have complete control of your approach when that walk starts.

John Neilon is pastor of the Nashua Valley Christian Fellowship, located in the Crossroads Office Park on Mechanic Street in Leominster. He is one of nine local worship leaders whose columns appear on a rotating basis in the "Shepherd's Corner" series.

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