Dying well this Christmas
That might seem a strange thing to say. We live in a culture which while parading any number of gruesome ways to die in its entertainment is remarkably shy about facing the reality. We have removed death from the home and placed it in the hands of professionals who can nurse us through our final moments and discreetly deal with our remains. Death is too disturbing for public view.
But as a pastor, I get to be by the bedsides of the dying, and a privilege it is.
A few weeks back I sat with Betty, having been told she was likely to die in a day or two. She keeps surprising us though and is still here. I went to pray for her, but she ended up praying more for me. Lying in her bed giving thanks to Jesus for all the blessings of a long life Betty expressed not a single regret and only excited hope for what lies ahead. Remarkable.
Then at Brian’s bedside, holding his hand and reading scripture as he laboured for breath. Just a few hours before his last laboured breath Brian was praying for his family and expressing trust in Jesus. He held my hand firmly, but his grip of Christ’s hand was firmer still.
And Chris, who died a few days ago. When I last saw her, a few days before that, she was lying in bed, giving glory to God and revelling in the promise of the life to come: whooping with joy!
It was John Wesley who said, “Our people die well.” It is a privilege to be able to see the truth of that. Being with saints who are dying well is to see how true are the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:13. When those who are about to fall asleep confidently and joyfully recount the goodness of God throughout their lives and confidently and joyfully anticipate what is to come, those of us who are left behind are encouraged to be confident and joyful too. We do not grieve as others do, for we have hope!
At Christmas we celebrate birth but always the celebrations entwine with death. Christmas is the dying of the year. Christmas is the celebration of a baby in a manger, and a prelude to the man on a cross. Christmas is itself a testimony that we need not fear death – one year dies, another will begin. The baby grows to a man who is crucified, but the cross and tomb are empty. Resurrection is coming!
At the bedside of dying saints I am reminded of that coming resurrection again and again. What a privilege.