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“Death is nothing at all”

“Death is nothing at all” October 11, 2021

I take comfort in the fact that my part of the Christian family prays for the dead and that we believe that the dead can pray for us.  We are not, as Flip Wilson put it, “the church of what’s happening now.”

We believe that the Resurrection has changed history forever and has broken the power of death.  In Christ’s rising from the dead, Jesus has vindicated the claim that the Triune God is Creator and Lord of Life.  In Christ’s rising, Jesus has vindicated the claim that the Triune God is the Lord of History.  In Christ’s rising, we believe that God embraces us across that divide which cannot resist the power of the Resurrection.

For that reason, we pray for those who have died – because they continue their share in our common journey into God in Christ.  For that reason, we also ask for them to intercede on our behalf.

They, no less than our neighbors, remain present to us.  We journey on in their presence.  They are what Paul called our “cloud of witnesses.”  And we continue to extend the reach of God’s grace, to which they have already contributed.

This perspective will seem strange to our brothers and sisters who think of the Resurrection as a metaphor or who believe that the promise of the Gospel is only social or political – a vision confined to the here and now.  It will also seem strange to our brothers and sisters who think that the Christian faith is a transaction, moving our names from the column labelled “damned and going to hell” to the column labelled “saved and going to heaven.”

But as we understand it, the redemptive work of Christ embraces the past, present, and future.  It embraces this world and the world to come.  And it offers a vision which can only be expressed in all its fullness in the church and in the body of Christ – because the church is Christ’s work and it is in the church that Christ’s work is done.

It was this understanding of the Resurrection that prompted Henry Scott Holland to write this prayer in 1910: 

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away to the next room.

I am I and you are you.

Whatever we were to each other, That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.

Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed

at the little jokes, we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without effect.

Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same that it ever was.

There is absolute unbroken continuity.

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.

For an interval.

Somewhere. Very near.

Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better,

infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.[1]

As I sat with the loss of yet another dear friend this week, I reflected back over the faith that we share – this faith, a faith grounded in the hope of the Resurrection – and it occurred to me that there might be two sides to Holland’s prayer.  The other side of the conversation.  And my own answer took this shape:

Friend,

As you advise,

I will not mourn your loss

as friends are forced to do

who have no hope.

Oh, I will mourn, of course.

I will miss the immediacy

of your companionship,

the sound of your voice,

the way in which you occupied

your life,

the characteristic smile,

the look in your eye,

the turn of phrase,

the laughter shared. 

I will miss knowing what was next for you,

what you might have advised,

and what lay ahead

for you and for me.

But, as you note,

you are you,

I am me,

and our friendship abides,

undiminished.

Both of us are embraced by the Lord of Life.

the conversation continues

and, together,

we will discover

what God has for both of us.

And soon, very soon,

I will see you again.

In Christ we are, in fact,

already reunited,

the journey continued,

the wall between us

destroyed.

We wait

to behold his victory

on either side

of an imposter,

that looks like a divide.

So, keep me in your prayers,

as I will pray for you.

and together,

let us continue the journey

that he began in us.

All is well, indeed,

and death is nothing at all.

 

[1] “Death is Nothing at All” was written in 1910 by Henry Scott Holland, an English clergyman and popularized by the Carmelite monks in Tallow, County Waterford, Ireland.

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