“In the midst of life, we are in death; from whom can we seek help?” Those are the words that begin a Service of Committal, the time after death when the loved one is either buried or cremated. “In the midst of life, we are in death.”
How true those words are, first written in a ninth century prayer book. So where does our help come from? The service goes on to read, “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” It is so often at times of death that people do turn to the name of the Lord, the creator of all, the Holy One who holds together the entire universe.
I’m not sure what it is about the month of July, but it seems to be a time when many do die, especially the elderly. I have spent much of the last few weeks at the bedside of the dying, comforting the families, preparing and attending funeral services. In conversation with several clergy friends, I find that they, also, have an unusually heavy load of funerals right now. In the last two weeks, I have lost two friends whom I had been privileged to know in these last few years, a high school classmate of my brother, and my mother just phoned with the news of yet another death of someone I had known since early childhood.
And late last week, I found that a friend whom I’ve known as soul mate has developed a particularly virulent and fast-acting form of leukemia. She was in New York City when it was discovered, was immediately put into a hospital there and is now undergoing heavy, heavy blasts of chemotherapy.I long to be at her bedside, but cannot leave here right now, so I’ve been calling her daily. In today’s conversation, she said, “I am just beginning to understand that I probably won’t make it through this.” Yes, in the midst of life, we are in death.
Our help? It is in the name of the Lord. The worship service goes on to say, “God, who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your moral bodies also through the Spirit that dwells in you.”
This is the hope that Christianity offers to the world that cannot be found elsewhere: Christ was indeed raised from the dead. In that act, death lost its sting. Because there is a resurrection, because our mortal bodies will indeed put on immortality, death has lost its victory.
Does it hurt when we have to say these final good-byes to those whom we love? Oh my—the pain is so great that sometimes I wonder how we bear it. But we, who call upon Jesus as Lord, do above all have hope. And so in our final prayer at the graveside we say, “Gracious God, we thank you for those we love but see no more. Receive into your arms your servant and grant that increasing in knowledge and love of you, they may go from strength to strength in service to your heavenly kingdom though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
May all who find themselves in sorrow discover anew the words of hope.