For the next few newsletters I would like to introduce you a friend of mine who is also a Bishop of the church, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Mallory, author of a book entitled OTHER ROADS LESS TRAVELED. The forward to this book (which I highly recommend} was written Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As a deliberate point of reference, the theology of “end of life” is of note. It is a resurrection theology that we all need to meditate on. Consequently we are launching a series comments from a chapter of Bishop Mallory’s book entitled WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DIE?
“So what happens when we die? Frankly, I don’t know. I haven’t done that yet, and I hope I don’t for a while. But I’ve got some pretty certain thoughts about what I think happens. And what I will tell you is not because it is what I hope will happen, but from a faith-certainty that I’ve gained from counseling with the dying and their families over many years. This faith-certainty, if I may call it that, comes also from years of pondering the words St. Paul has to say on the subject and from my own faith in a God, who loves us so much He simply will not throw us away or play “three strikes and you’re out” when we’ve run our earthly course. Folks, there are few things where your personal faith needs to be more rooted and strong than your belief about death. And yet this is a subject we all try to avoid, and that’s the reason for this sermon: to remind us and perhaps to teach us what as Christians we are supposed to believe about death.
My friend was fond of saying, “We are all terminal, and none of us gets out of this alive”; like taxes, death is something we all experience, one way or the other. Half-jokingly, he also used to refer to funerals as “planting” the dead. I used to think that was a bit flippant until I realized it might be a pretty good way of describing what happens at funerals. At a funeral we are burying a body, but we’re also planting a soul. We are disposing of a body that fades away to ashes or dirt, but we are commending a soul to its next stage of life, because the soul, which is the very essence of who you and I are, lives on forever. You may think that good news or bad, but that doesn’t change the simple fact our souls do not die. The soul, which we might say is the very essence of who we are, lives on forever. That’s not wishful or fanciful thinking, but it’s what Christians have been taught by God. At death then, the soul moves on to another life just as certainly as when a child is born into this world.
What then is the teaching of the Church on death? Basically, it’s rooted in what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians when he said, “With death, life is changed not ended” (1 Corinthians 15:51). That’s pretty categorical: life is not ended with death! It’s unfortunate we use the same word for the end of human life as we do for the end of every other kind of life. Death. No one (except maybe undertakers) likes the word. It’s gloomy baggage that suggests it’s all over: fished, the end, caput. I’m not fond of the expression “passed on”, but in a sense it’s probably a good way to describe what happens at death. Our loved ones have really passed on to a larger life. St. Paul describes that as “growing from glory to glory” from this life to the next (1 Corinthians 3:18). The growth of our souls, the real you, doesn’t stop with death.”
Peace and blessings,