I want to express my gratitude for all the words of comfort and support and all of the prayers that have gone out for my family since my father passed away on March 6, 2013.  It has been a time of thanksgiving, laughter, tears, memories and gratitude.

As a pastor, I have been around death on a regular basis.  I have lost grandmothers, and my mother, lost friends and members of the churches I have served.  Since coming to Warner Robins, I have witnessed the presentation of Military Honors at least once a year.  But we never really discuss death; rather we talk about the one that has died.  We talk about the needs of the surviving family, and/or we talk about going to be with God.

I write this column days before Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.  For the most part, we focus upon Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Easter and skip the reality that is Good Friday.  Yet we all face that kind of event in our families and for ourselves.  Rather than avoiding the topic or stepping quietly around it, maybe we should face it head on.

Jesus died on Good Friday.  His mother and a few of the women who followed him and according to John, the disciple that Jesus loved the best, witnessed Jesus’ death.  The women then gathered with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and prepared Jesus for a hasty burial.  This small group took it upon themselves to stay through to the end.  They witnessed the transformation from life to death.  This was not unusual in the ancient world; as a matter of fact, it is only recently that people stopped witnessing the arrival of death and the transition from life.

Today we step away; we even disguise it with cosmetics so that our loved one “looks so natural”.  We do not want to grow old and die.  We don’t want to see death in reality.  Yet without death, there can be no eternal life.

This does not mean we should all rush to die, but rather accept the reality that death occurs and that there are times when it is indeed a blessing.  We should do our best to live a full and generous life and then not fear what comes next since our faith teaches us that God is waiting for us on the other side just as God waits for us every day.

My father had been in the nursing home for 6 years.  Most of that time he did not recognize family or friends.  During the last year he spent most of his time asleep.  I am grateful that his dementia did not cause him to be angry or abusive.  I am grateful that he has found peace and is with mom again.  During the military honors that were rendered by the VFW, I met a man that had known dad for a long time.  He was the one who presented the flag after the salute and taps.  My father lives in the memories of those who knew him and the stories they shared as well as in the memories I possess.  He is with me in my heart and will never leave.  Yes, death causes us pain, but it also sweetens those memories that remain.

Do not be afraid; remember that God is with us.  Jesus quoted the 22 Psalm from the cross.  We remember the words, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.”  But we rarely go to the Psalm and read the whole thing.  Here is how it ends.

“From thee comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.  The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord!  May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.  For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down; before him shall all who go down to the dust, and he who cannot keep himself alive.  Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it.”

Our God is the God of the living and those who die remain alive in our God.  Thanks be to God.

Shalom, Darrell