2021-11-07 Online Service
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What happens when you die? This is a question that has been asked over a zillion times in the course of human history. And likely, it has received just as many answers! Some will say that when you die, nothing happens. Dead is dead and that is that. Others will say that when you die you get a pair of angel wings and become a guardian over those closest to you. Others speculate that you get your own planet and kingdom to rule over when you die. Still others have said you reincarnate and come back as something else. If you’re good maybe you’ll comeback as a cow. If you’re bad maybe you’ll comeback as a dung beetle behind the cow! On the heels of Halloween maybe you’ll perhaps become a ghost and haunt and terrorize a relative that you hate! Regardless of the answer, much ink has spilled trying to answer the question “What happens when you die?”
We think about this too in life, especially when someone we love and care about dies. Or if we are a person in the hospital or hospice at the end of our lives, we tend to think about this question a lot. What happens when we die? It is a certainty in life to be sure. Death and taxes. It’s the Canadian way! We know that everyone living will eventually die, unless our Lord Jesus returns first, and Come, Lord Jesus! But it can be a scary thing for many people to contemplate as well. It’s unknown and the unknown by nature is scary. You can eat heart healthy omelettes, you can run 10kms a day, you can yoga and sauna, detox and drink kale and cucumber smoothies, you can do all kinds of things to try to prolong life but you know it’s coming. The casket. The grave. The funeral luncheon awaits us all. What happens when we die?
The Bible shows us many things, especially about death and dying. About sin and death St. Paul writes “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). And he also writes “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1Cor 15:56). So sin and death are eternally linked. Adam and Eve sinned and brought about death. We who have followed after them are born dead and hence we sin. This is the theological truth about death and dying. It tells us we sin because we are spiritually dead and because we sin will will certainly die. But it doesn’t tell us what happens when we die. We have to look elsewhere in the scriptures for the answer.
The Bible draws a deep line in the sand on this topic. You either have faith in Christ Jesus and have eternal life or you don’t. You cling to your sins and death and you end up in the place of eternal death. It’s a simple, binary thing. Yes or No. Eternal life or eternal death. From the Bible we learn that we don’t reincarnate, we don’t get our own planet, we don’t get angel wings, we don’t cease to exist and we don’t become ghosts and goblins. When Christians die, our spirits depart to be with Christ and await the resurrection of the body that we confess in the Creed. These departed spirits do the same thing that are doing here today: gather together in the presence of God to worship Him and be in His presence forever more.
This Scriptural truth tells us that we have nothing to fear as God’s people. The sting of death has stung our Lord Jesus Christ. The Messiah. The Saviour. The Lord of Life has given His life for us on the cross. His death gives us life by faith. His victory over sin, death and devil becomes our victory. So really, there is nothing to be concerned about if we believe and are baptized into Christ.
One of my favourite Bible passages that really drives this home is from the beloved Psalm 23. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (4). This valley is a path we will all walk through ourselves. But the promise of Christ our Good Shepherd is that He is with us protecting us, guiding us, and giving us comfort. He is right there, by our side giving us the assurance of His victory over death with the power of the resurrection.
And as we walk through this dark valley, on the other side there is this incredibly bright and amazing scene: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 9-10). So here it is, friends, here is the answer to our question. What happens when we die? For the faithful Christian, it’s a gigantic party around the throne of the Living God! It’s a heavenly banquet! It’s unceasing worship of our victorious Triune God forever and ever!
For those who trust in Christ, the world’s Messiah, and can see by faith the amazing celebration that awaits us, death becomes beautiful. The fear and terror of the unknown evaporates through the rock solid trust in Jesus Who has transformed death through His cross and resurrection. And this becomes the amazing connection to our commemoration of All Saints’ Day today. The Saintly life is one that is lived in the light of God’s eternal Kingdom. Through Baptism and faith we are made saints, holy ones, those set apart to inherit the gift and legacy of eternal life. It is a blessed life that St. Matthew paints for us in the Beatitudes or blessings of heaven. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. This is the life of the Saints that we remember today and embrace for ourselves.
And one of the absolutely most amazing things of our Christian faith is the link between Heaven and Earth that takes place here, in God’s House on the Lord’s Day. Christ Jesus has promised to be with us, where two or three are gathered. And He has promised that in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion, there He is present in His body and blood. And where Christ is, there are His people. When we say in our liturgy “therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” we actually mean it. Holy, Holy, Holy we sing on earth along with the heavenly chorus for the faithful living and the faithful dead are all alive in Christ. What a blessing to be present with our Lord and our brothers and sister in Christ, saints who have gone before us in the faith, all together around our Lord’s table.
What happens when we die? Jesus has told us. The Bible has shown us. By faith in the Lord we ourselves are numbered among the great multitude around the throne of the Lamb now and forever more. “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev 7:12).