I wanted to share some thoughts about how we approach death and dying. Our last church, Bearwood Chapel had the full range of ages with plenty of children and young people but also a significant number of people in their 80s and 90s. That meant we saw a fair few deaths and funerals for people who had gone to be with Jesus in old age. Sadly, we also experienced tragic and untimely death too. But there was a certain visibility of aging, dying and death. That’s less so now as we are part of a church family almost exclusively drawn from younger age groups and as my focus is primarily on encouraging church planting.
First, I am simply going to share a tweet thread from a palliative care doctor who shows us how the late Queen very publicly showed us what it means for an older person to go through a “normal dying process.” They helpfully comment that although the Queen modelled this well and publicly, we struggle to name the process and so often hide behind other words and phrases to avoid the “d” word.
I agree with her from a pastoral perspective. In fact, it frequently frustrated me to hear people talking about “fears over the Queen’s heath” and a coming crisis. It is right to be concerned for the health and well-being of an older person, it is completely appropriate to be sad when they die but should there have been fears over things that were to be expected? Was there really a crisis or was that a way of in fact turning the focus on ourselves. We don’t have to make a crisis out of death and dying. This should be even more the case of believers. We are sad, we grieved when a loved one dies but it is not a crisis for a loved one who has nothing to fear from death because they have sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
It is helpful then to be aware of the physical aspects of dying. That enables the person to know what they are going to face and for loved ones to face it with them. This in itself can take away some of the anxiety and fear around death.
However, we also want to prepare spiritually for death and dying. This is even more important because not everyone will live into their 80s and 90s although many people will live well into old age. People sometimes talk about those years as “borrowed time” because of the Bible’s reference to three score years and ten (70). I prefer to describe those years as “extra grace.” So, we need to be spiritually ready that God could call us at any time through accident, tragedy or sudden illness. We may not go through a “dying” process but we will die unless Christ returns first.
To that end I’d like to direct you to this helpful blog article by my friend Steve Kneale where he uses the analogy of life insurance.
If we are setting out on a journey, then it’s helpful to know where we are going. Back at the height of the pandemic with many fearing illness and death, I shared this series of YouTube talks on “Going home.”
You, see, it’s important if for different reasons, that the Christian is prepared for death by the Gospel. For us it’s about knowing the final details of the journey home. Much of what we do in church together is about preparing for home.
I pray that we will all be ready for home when Christ calls us.