Ready or Not, Here I Come…
Surprise! Season Change, Franklin, Maine
Beginning a New Year is cause to celebrate renewal as well as an opportunity to contemplate how time and circumstances transition from one phase to the next. Sometimes, change is gradual and unnoticed. Days slip by; weeks merge; seasons cycle; the years roll on. Bleak winter surprises Fall’s beauty! Biology jolts us as aging sneaks then pounces; the battle for vigor and beauty and lasting dreams is lost! Unexpected moments shatter a future, or sudden realizations bring transformation.
Psalmists, Theologians, and Poets lament, ponder, and speculate about the essence and brevity of life and the nature of an afterlife! The Psalmist said that our lives “quickly pass, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10) Major world religions hold hopes of immortality through soul reincarnation and recurring attempts at redemption by being and doing “good” and/or by seeking forgiveness with various gods. Shakespeare’s Macbeth said that life was ” a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.” Emily Dickinson imagined life as riding in a horse drawn carriage headed “toward Eternity.”
Although her beliefs may be difficult to categorize, themes of faith and immortality frequent Dickinson’s poetry. In “Because I could not stop for Death,” the speaker realized that they had lived life in the constant company of two unassuming companions, Death and Immortality. Death had been ignored as “he” rode along with patient “civility.” (“Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me/ The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality.)
The poem’s tone seems rather matter of fact, untroubled. The three companions rode together through the different stages of life (“We passed the School, where Children strove / At Recess – in the Ring / We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –We passed the Setting Sun.”) But there is a slightly surprised lament about being unprepared as the warmth of life leaves and a recognizable grave is approached. (“before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground.”).
Although obsessing over irreversible physical endings is unhealthy, death will not be denied. When we make wills, plan for our families, and say what needs to be said, we wisely live with what most commonly seems like a distant eventuality. However, the book of James reminds us: “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone…” (James 4:14-15 (NLT2) We live with no guarantees of any earthly future, always walking in that “shadow of death.” (Psalm 23)
Scripture constantly reminds us to live day by day, to attend to our journeys by being people of faith, by making God our God, by having God as our personal Shepherd. Although Dickinson’s poem doesn’t speculate on afterlife details, “Immortality” was more than implied. It was one of the riders as the carriage was driven toward “eternity”: “Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses’ Heads Were toward Eternity.” That is a cautionary thought; we should be aware of our immortal spirits long before the closeness of their destination becomes a sudden realization.
In his parables and in the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus, Jesus confirms eternity’s explicit details. Some of these are blissful. Others are disturbing but are very much worth pondering in the context of the redemptive claims surrounding Christ,** who has made every provision for our spirits. (Matthew 13) (Luke 16) On the day he stood by his friend’s grave , Christ called for people to put their faith in him and his resurrecting power, which he proved by raising Lazarus alive from the grave and soon after by His own resurrection. Both resurrections are cause for great joy because they shore us the promise of life with God beyond physical death for those who believe. (John 11:25) Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 (NLT2)
Ready or not? That final transition from life may surprise us, but we can be prepared! Christianity has such an optimistic view of death that it speaks of the believer’s demise as the mortal being “swallowed up by life,” not by death. (2 Corinthians 5:4)
**(John 3) (John 3:16-17) (Isaiah 53:6) (Romans 10:9-10) (Ephesians 2:8-9) (Titus 3:5)