“So, what happens when we die?” someone asked me. How to condense and simplify myriad Bible verses about judgement, salvation, eternal life and varying Christian angles on the afterlife? It is such an important question!
After death comes God’s ‘judgment’ on our ability to save ourselves: ‘NO CHANCE!’ None of us live the perfect, sin-free life, which allows our soaring straight into God’s innermost presence of Heaven. But God reaches out in Jesus to save us from extinction and ‘forever without him’.
“And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28 – NLT)
Death’s Long Jump – Henri Nouwen (recounted in ‘Our Greatest Gift’) learned from a Circus Trapeze Troupe. Leader ‘Rodleigh’ informed him, “As a flyer I must have complete trust in my catcher. You might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split second precision & grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump!”
“How does it work?” Nouwen asked.
Rodleigh replied, “The secret is that the flyer does nothing and catcher everything! When I fly to Joe, I simply stretch out my arms and hands waiting for him to catch and pull me safely over the apron behind the catch-bar.”
“You do nothing!?” an astonished Nouwen asked.
“Nothing,” repeated Rodleigh. “The worst thing a flyer can do is try to catch the catcher. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine & that would be the end for both of us! A flyer has to trust with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him!”
Remember Jesus dying words? “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Nouwen writes, “Dying is trusting in the Catcher! Caring for the dying is saying: ‘Don’t be afraid, you are the Beloved Child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump…don’t try to grab him, he will grab you… just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust in Jesus.’”
Recently I have had the honour of conducting many funeral services, some of which were untimely and tragic. Last week I led 5 funerals. St Paul likened death to the ‘groanings of childbirth’ (Romans 8), pain swallowed up by the joy of release into God’s eternal healing of heaven and promise of a brand-new spiritual body. Jesus’ death and resurrection helps us face death with trust and hope, and live free from fear. Says Nouwen, “Much of our lives is flying. It is wonderful to fly in the air free as a bird, but when God isn’t there to catch us, all our flying comes to nothing. Let’s trust in the Great Catcher.” And, yes let’s be praying grace, courage and comfort for all who grieve and mourn today!