Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. – Paul VI “
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 KJV)
The fish was motionless on the water’s surface as it went floating by. Leaning over the rail I saw it approaching in the current, its scaled body glistening like a thousand tiny jewels in the brilliant sunlight. It was quite dead, of that I am sure, moving lifeless with the rhythms of the tide. A snook I believe or perhaps a redfish, it was hard to tell. Not that my limited knowledge of fish species would have provided much for a more positive identification. It really didn’t matter anyway ” the fish was deceased.
For a moment I tried to imagine it living along a mangrove covered coastline or flitting among the pilings near the shore. In my mind’s eye I saw him, full of vigor and freedom, jumping clear of the water and bursting into a long run, or maybe just lying in wait against the moving water, feeding on a smorgasbord of marine life being swept along by the currents. Not today though. Death kept its appointment and this largely unobserved flotilla of one was this fish’s grand finale.
It seems to me that here on earth; we are ever surrounded by the shadow of death.
My good friend Antonio died unexpectedly. He was a Pastor in suburban New York and a man gifted in so many ways. His energetic approach to life, compassion for people and most of all his love for God oozed from every fiber of his being. Tony was a good man who never held back sharing joy wherever he went. I will miss his wonderfully infectious smile, his no-nonsense approach to life and faith, and his boyish charms – everything that made Tony so unique among men. Think it unfair, call it unjust – it matters not; in spite of all objections, death comes at its appointed time.
Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. In that other room, I shall be able to see.” ” Helen Keller
I remember when the man who lived across the street from me passed away. We were not particularly close, but we often conversed when retrieving our mail or setting out the trash. He loved fine cigars and good craft beer. Most days I’d see him out walking his two beautiful dogs ” always at noon. His politics were decidedly conservative and he had a kind and giving heart as big as all outdoors. We laughed and cried at his memorial. The preacher said he will always live on in our memories even though his physical presence is no longer with us. I miss waving to him nearly every day as we passed on the boulevard. But once again, death kept its appointment and my neighbor left the room and moved on to the land of the living.
Yes indeed, we are surrounded by death’s shadow here on spaceship earth.
The day my father died I was 1100 miles from our childhood home, sitting with my son and some friends in a local “man cave”. That moment in time when I got the call will forever live in the shadows of my mind. Speaking through her tears, my sister said, “Daddy’s gone”. The call ended and I sat for a moment in silence before whispering, “Goodbye dad, I love you and I will sure miss you.” The next few days were a whirlwind of activity as the family gathered to bid a final earthbound farewell to our patriarch. You guessed it, death had kept its appointment and my father left the room; He too moved on to the land of the living.
Truly, the shadow of death surrounds us here on planet earth.
Pete Seeger wrote a song entitled Turn, Turn, Turn in the late 1950’s. Except for the title and the closing verse, the song’s lyrics are lifted almost word for word from the Bible’s Older Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Here’s the text,
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
The lesson offered in these dichotomous phrases (the writing of which is attributed to the ancient Hebrew, King Solomon) is simple ” there is a time and a purpose for everything in life. Read those verses carefully again. It’s all there ” love and hate, war and peace, sowing and reaping, laughing and crying, and of course life and death. Death is the epilogue.
All the while I thought that I was learning how to live my life, I have been really learning how to die.” ” Leonardo da Vinci
We all have an appointment with death ” no exceptions. Death is as sure as the daily appearance of the sun in the eastern sky. You can spend a lifetime avoiding the uncomfortable subject of death, but you cannot cancel your appointment with it. At the allotted time, the Angel of Death will come to collect your immortal soul. The Newer Testament writer Paul put it like this,
27“It is appointed unto every man once to die, but after that the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
Think about it: There is but one way to leave this earth. Death alone releases our human spirit from the confines of the flesh. When the time comes for our appointment, death will expose the entrance into a new dimension. As a Christian, I have the irrefutable promise of almighty God that my death is merely a transition to a new and better life! This is why I have put my trust in the Liberator Jesus. Do you remember what he said? I’ve shared it with you before,
9“I am the Door; anyone who enters through me will be saved [will live forever], and will go in and out [freely], and find pasture (spiritual security).” (John 10:9 Amplified Bible)
The Liberator Jesus is the doorway to the land of the living. Oh, and by the way, contrary to popular belief, earth is not the land of the living. As long as we are here on this planet, stuck inside these mortal bodies, we live in the land of the dying! When we leave this terrestrial body through death, our existence is transformed as we enter the land of the truly living ” a place where there is no more death! The Newer Testament writer Paul described it this way,
1-4We know, for instance, that if our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God. In this present frame we sigh with deep longing for the heavenly house, for we do not want to face utter nakedness when death destroys our present dwelling these bodies of ours. So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling (our bodies) we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these “clothes” but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is forever.
5-8Now the power that has planned this experience for us is called God, and he has given us his Spirit as a guarantee of its truth. This makes us confident, whatever happens. We realize that being “at home” in the earthly body means that to some extent we are “away” from God, for we have to live by trusting him without seeing him. We are so sure of this that we would really rather be “away” from the body (in death) and be “at home” with Him. (2 Corinthians 5: 1-8 Phillips)
If you believe these words and you have placed your faith in the Liberator Jesus, then your sojourn here on this floating penal colony is only a temporary inconvenience. But if you have not placed your hope in the one who was sent to this earth by the Almighty to rescue a lost race from a death doomed planet, then you are not ready to walk through destiny’s door. Please listen to just a few more words spoken by the man known as Jesus,
1-4 “You must not let yourselves be distressed you must hold on to your faith in God and to your faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am. You know where I am going and you know the road I am going to take.” (John 14:1-4 Phillips)
The Liberator Jesus ” He came, He saw, and He set us free from the sting of death! Then he went away. But he did not leave without a solemn assurance that one day he would return for all those who cling to his promises.
Yes indeed, death is all around us. And someday we too will keep our appointment with it and like all of those who have gone before us, we shall also leave the room. Thankfully, there is a better place ” a different room ” prepared by the Liberator Jesus himself waiting for our arrival.
And then my dear friends ” WE SHALL BE SURROUNDED BY DEATH NO MORE!
Almighty God, we know that death is part of this life. There is no way to stop it. Grief is real. Please comfort my friends today who have felt the pain caused by death. We trust in you and hold on to the promise that when our time on earth is finished, our life has only just begun. By faith we receive the never-ending comfort of your presence. Amen.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656