It’s that time of the year when, in parts far north of the equator, the season is making a definite change. Fields lie fallow. Deciduous trees let loose their foliage. Fruit trees bear their fruits. Human thought turns to mortality for what happens in nature happens to all of nature. Isaiah, the great prophet Isaiah puts it this way and rather euphemistically, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth…” (40:8, King James Bible).
As a pastor, I always used this time of the year, which includes All Saints and All Souls Day, to write to parishioners about the practical part of being prepared for an earthly ending. This advice comes from an epitaph, Where you are I have been and where I am you will be. For many, this sounds morbidly creepy, but it is an inescapable truth. So, I encouraged parishioners to recall their beloved dead and to consider their own eventualities.
I considered my demise several years ago. I thought it would be difficult, but it wasn’t. I took a very matter-of-fact approach to my burial and I think came up with a plan that will be efficient and not a hardship. I will be cremated and niched in the Alcove of the Saints in the Crypt Mausoleum of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. A well-established mortuary with which I have ministered for many years in Phoenix is entrusted with my latest wishes, preceded by those of my nephew and family.
This was the easy part of preparing. The hard part is a growing awareness that time waits for no man. By this I mean to say that this time of the year calls to mind the many who have gone before me. Where they have gone, I must follow. I think, for example, of those I knew in grade school who never made it to high school: one by suicide, one by an equestrian accident and one by a vehicular accident. These have been gone so long even as I approach my 66th year. Why are some lives so short while others are so long, reaching into the centenary years?
I think about those who made it to high school, but did not live long enough to be graduated. I remember as well those who were ordained along side of me and the one of five who is no longer among us. Such is the universal call to all of us.
Many have the same reflections and feelings that I have, this I know. When I watch a television program that was new when I first watched it and then realize that everyone in the cast is now deceased, I get the sobering feeling of being old and vulnerable. These feelings are often linked to generational thinking that posits that once your parents are gone, your generation is next. This is natural course of events, which when reversed causes the greatest pain for there are no greater pangs of hurt than those of a parent who loses a child. This grief comes from the feeling that the natural order was unfairly usurped. Even death cares not to adhere to the convention of nature as we imagine it to be.
The response to death is basically two-fold: 1.) It is the end; 2.) It is not the end. For those who see death as an absolute end to life, there is nothing more to be said or to be experienced. For those who see a continuation after death, there are two schools of thought. The first constates that we are essentially energy, that is we spend our existence doing something. Energy can only be converted to conserve itself so somehow it continues in a different form or is transferred to a different object. This viewpoint depends on materialized energy. An example is that the energy of a decedent could become become part of an apple tree.
The second perspective asserts that we essentially spiritual. This spiritual aspect is appropriated or gifted at baptism when our physicality is immersed in and overcome by God’s Spirit in Christ-Jesus. He is the one who is eternal, yet took on the weight of the quality (including but limited to suffering) and quantity (including and limited by dying). He was raised from the dead and reappeared to humanity as a glorious (from the Greek, doxa, the absolutely perfect inward or personal excellency of Christ) body, not as a ghost, who could be discerned as truly spiritual in human form.
This sounds a lot like the conservation of energy as discussed above, but spirituality is different than energy in that a spirit is not quantitative and it does not depend on material. Physicality in this sense precludes the necessity of a material body as we know it. Thusly, Saint Paul speaks of a ‘glorious’ body which no longer does, but eternally is. Energy does whereas spirit is. The latter never has to conserve itself and because of this, those reborn of the Spirit remain unique creatures, thus they are never to be charged with transforming into someone else (reincarnation) or into something else (transmigration).
It’s always good to end something so serious with a little humor…