When I committed my life to the ministry, no one told me there would be so many funerals. Some days, it seems that the majority of the folks to whom I’ve provided ministry have died. Rumor has it that those who haven’t, will. I’m even beginning to suspect that I may someday be among the dead rather than the living.
There are so many deaths that most of us who are not dead spend at least part of our time thinking and wondering about those who are. Where are they? How are they? Will I see them again? Many to whom I minister assume because I am the pastor that I will have answers to their questions about life beyond; and all who ask are hoping that I will have the answer they want to hear—the one upon which they’ve chosen to hang their hope.
I disappoint a lot people. I don’t have many answers . . . at least not the answers that many want. What I have is faith. By faith, I believe this life and this world is not all there is. Jesus, upon whom I have staked my life, said there was more in the Father’s house. He promised his disciples he would prepare a place for them and come again in order to take them there. Long before Jesus, there were those who held that there was life after death. I’ve joined their numbers. I just don’t know what it will be like.
I don’t know what life beyond—what heaven—will be like, and I don’t care. I am thoroughly enjoying my life on earth. I look around me and in spite of all we humans have done to mar God’s creation, I see evidence of God. God’s beauty of creation emerges even from the scarred soil of a strip mine and from the ashes of a forest fire. I don’t worry about what heaven will be like because a God who can create the beauty I see around me and who can give me the life I am enjoying can be trusted with the hereafter.
However, life after death is not just about heaven. This I know. So many of the people I’ve known who have died keep hanging around. No, I’m not speaking of ghosts. My maternal great grandparents, who died in my childhood, my grandparents, both my father and Donna’s father, and a host of friends have all died. They are gone, but they are not. They are part of me. I often see glimpses of them, occasionally in dreams of living color. I look at my hands and see Dad’s (though his were larger), and at my wrists and see Grandpa Knapp’s. I can occasionally hear their voices. In some ways, these folks who have preceded me in death are more vividly present in death than they were in life. In life, our togetherness was limited to our sharing the same space. Now, I can be with them, one at a time or all at the same time.
I would rather have these folks with me as they once were, but their presence as they are gives me a glimpse into eternity and a new meaning to one of the Bible verses I learned as a child:
Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily best us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith . . . (Hebrews 12:1-2 KJV).
Formerly, I saw that “cloud of witnesses” as a great photographic gallery of remembrance. That was before so many in that cloud had faces I know. I don’t need a photographic gallery. The writer of Hebrews was correct. I am “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” The dead are among us. The dead and the living are together now and forever. Thanks be to God!