Summary: The fear of death is a burden many carry. Where do we turn? To Christ, and his promise of the Resurrection.
3rd Last Sunday, 11-9-03
We all have things we don’t like very much. We all have “pet peeves”. I suspect many of us might share some common disdains; heavy traffic caused by rubber-neckers, the nerve jarring sound chalk sometimes makes, a pebble in our shoe. These are things that get under our skin, things that really get to us. And I’m sure if we had time to take a poll there are plenty of other examples and many other “pet-peeves” that we all share.
While there are plenty of “pet-peeves” that we all share, there are certainly others which are personal, private, maybe even peculiar. I met a guy in Kyrgyzstan who absolutely hates the crunching, compacting sound that fresh snow makes when you step on it with your shoe. He said it sends shivers up his spine, it completely freaks him out, and he would do ANYTHING to avoid stepping on it. While that may sound weird to you, it is very real for him and he is serious. Grecia now lives in Kansas City with his American wife, and you can bet this winter he will be up to his old tricks, avoiding the snow that falls a few hours south of here. Like my friend, we all have these little idiosyncrasies, our own pet peeves and we have learned to live our lives avoiding them, staying away from whatever “gets under our skin”.
But not everything can be avoided, and there are things in our lives that go beyond “pet-peeves”. Is there something in your life that is more than just an idiosyncrasy? Something that evokes an emotion that is exponentially more intense than simple disdain. Is there something that you “can’t stand” so much that you avoid at all costs, even the thought of it? Something that you fear confronting? Maybe even a real phobia?
I have one of these things in my life. There are precious few days when I am not worried or anxious about it. Not a week goes by when the fear of this subject doesn’t torture my thoughts and try to undermine my sense of security.
I am talking about death. I have an intense fear, a phobia, of the people around me dying. Not so much a fear of my own death, but an ongoing anxiety about the people I care about passing away. This isn’t due to a naïve ignorance of death or a misguided perception of what death is. I know what death is, I know all too well what it looks like. I have seen it take a younger sibling, a stepfather, and a nephew-all unexpectedly, all without warning. And I am terrified that it could happen again. At any time, to any one I love. That’s a fact of life. And that fact of life haunts me.
Today, Sunday November the 9th, is the 3rd last Sunday in the church year. The church year is coming to a close. All the lessons point to death, dying, and the end of the world. As the year winds down, the lessons are picked to remind us that we too are winding down. As the church year fades away, we are also fading away, coming closer and closer to death. Lucky me, I get to preach about it. Today’s text from Daniel 12 is the basis for this sermon. As you heard a few moments ago, it talks about the Last Day.
Verse 2 says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Did you hear that? We will all be resurrected, raised up again. These bodies will rise from the grave. All people who have ever lived and died will have a resurrection of their bodies. Believers will be granted eternal life, and unbelievers will be sent to everlasting death. This is not a foreign concept to us. We confess this every Sunday in the Creed. We say it. But do we believe it? Is this a dead, meaningless doctrine for us? The question I would like to ask this morning is…what does this mean for you and me?
When I think about bodies laid into the dust, I think about funerals. How can you not? I do not like funerals. Not a good trait for an aspiring pastor to have. I cannot look into an open casket without the icy fingers of fear clutching my heart and the numbing pain of the past resurfacing in my mind. I have told everyone in my family that I want my casket shut so that no one will feel those feelings. I don’t want my loved ones having a lasting image of me as an embalmed, dressed up, makeup-caked corpse. I do not want that imprinted in their minds. I want to spare people from that, much in the same way that I wish I could have been spared from it when my family members died.