Simple Majesty

Posted: February 1, 2010 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horan

Paul seemed to get a lot of questions about the afterlife.  His responses always betrayed his desire to talk about other things, like making disciples and remaining a faithful church, but knowing how distressed the churches were about it, he occasionally would write to them with some answers, such as in 1Corinthians 15.  The question that seemed to be most on their minds here was: “What is going to happen to the people who have died before Jesus comes back?”

The disciples of Jesus Christ believed that he would be coming back soon—in their lifetime.  So when followers of Jesus started dying before he came back, they had a theological dilemma on their hands.  What will happen to people who are not still alive to greet Jesus when he returns?

He responds in 1Corinthians 15 by drawing a contrast between our earthly existence and the existence we’ll have after the resurrection.  He first talks about seeds.  They’re not living things.  They are detached from the tree or vine from which they came, or have been somehow extracted from the piece of fruit that carried them.  They are plain-looking.  They are lifeless.  They were a part of a living plant of some kind, but no longer.  For all intents and purposes, they are dead.

But after a time, nurtured properly, life springs forth from this lifeless seed.  Perhaps a vine or plant or tree emerges from the earth, full of leaves and flowers and fruit.  When the time is right, they produce a harvest.  Paul gives us the play on words—crops are “raised” by a farmer from these seeds.  In our case, however, we of mortal bodies, of earth-bound and sinful existence, will be raised.  If alive at the coming of Christ—transformed.  If already dead—then they will be raised.  Either way, there will be a drastic transformation.  Did you hear the contrast?

Bodies full of weakness will be clothed with power.

Our mortal bodies will be clothed with immortality.

Today our earthly existence obscures God’s glory, but one day God’s glory will be revealed in us.

Paul responds and distinguishes truth from myth.  The destiny of those in Christ is not a disembodied, spiritual one where our soul goes someplace forever to be in heaven.  God intends that is kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.  We will be resurrected in glorified bodies that reflect God’s design.

Remember that the disciples didn’t always recognize Jesus when they saw him after the Resurrection.  He still had the scars, and still had the love and lifestyle of the Savior, and so they recognized him.  He was not merely “resuscitated.”  He was made new.  This is our destiny.  Romans 8:29 reminds us that he was resurrected as the firstborn among many brethren.  Jesus’ resurrection is unique now, but someday, he will simply be the first, showing us the way.  Someday we all will follow the same path, and walk this earth in bodies of glory, power, and immortality; in the presence of God forever.

Now, we don’t worry about this question anymore.  2000 years and many lifetimes later, we’ve become aware that, odds are, Jesus likely will not be coming back in our lifetime either.  So what might this text say to us, if it answers a question that we no longer have?

There was a Time magazine article out a few years ago that made some interesting observations about our approach to death.  For example:  Only 10% of us will die suddenly or without warning.  That means that 90% of us will have to make end-of-life health care decisions for ourselves or for someone we love.  At the same time, less than 40% of us have a written will or end-of-life plan.  While 100% of us will die, the majority of us never prepare for it.  The author pointed out that we spend more time getting ready for two weeks away from work than we will for our last two-weeks on earth.  While we might not have this particular question—we still need to do some thinking about life after our death.

In June of 1963, Angelo Roncalli was dying.  His personal physician stood next to him and said, “You have asked me many times to tell you when the end was near so that you could prepare.”

“Don’t feel badly, Doctor,” Angelo said, “I understand.  I am ready.”

Angelo’s personal secretary was there, and began weeping.  These men were so stricken by the thought of the loss because Angelo was better known to the world as the beloved Pope John the 23rd.

The Pope reached out to him and said, “Courage, my son.  I must die with simplicity, but with majesty, and you must help me.  Get the people together.”

I must die with simplicity, but with majesty, and you must help me.  Go get the people together. This was a man who had a deep faith and a profound understanding of how a Christian should die.  (Dr. Thomas Long, Accompany them with Singing)

“Simply.”  Jesus lived a simple life—free of wealth or pretense or fanfare, and we are invited to the same.

“Majesty.”  1Peter 2 tells us that we are the children of God, a “royal priesthood.”  Even in the face of death, we can hold our heads high with the knowledge of who this person was, and where they have gone.

“You must help me.  Get the people together.”  We are to carry them along their final steps toward God, their shepherd, singing psalms and hymns along the way.  The essence of God is Trinity, community.  The nature of the church is to need each other, to be in the company of others.

The end of a Christian’s life should be marked by simple majesty.

I was thinking this week about the funerals that I’ve preached so far.  I remember my first graveside service.  It was attended by Jim and Celia Ferman.  Celia confessed later that she spent most of the service praying that I wouldn’t fall into the hole.  Yes sir, simplicity and majesty…

The good news is that I didn’t fall in the hole, but I have noticed that we don’t always handle this transition to glory very well.  We often fumble a bit this move from weakness to power and mortality to immortality.

The two main ways that come to mind where we fumble are in end-of-life planning and the planning of a funeral.  Consider a couple other items from the aforementioned Time article.

7 out of 10 Americans say they want to die at home, but three-fourths of us die in medical institutions.  Up to 50% of your total lifetime health care costs will likely occur in the last six months of your life.  Approximately one-third of Americans bankrupt their families in the process of dying.  Does this sound like simplicity to you?  Does it sound like majesty?  Does it seem like the best transition from weakness to power?  From mortality to immortality?

It is a gift to our families and friends if we will give some thought and planning to how we want our life to end.  Have you made your wishes known about the lengths you’d want people to go to try and prolong your life?  I assure you that no one wants to decide that for you.  They want you to have already decided, so that they can simply honor your wishes and have peace.

Do you have a will?  Do you want a variety of people and government officials spending a few months trying to decide what to do with the money and possessions you leave behind?  (And by the way, you’ll leave them all behind.)  A dear member of the church that we lost in the last year had taken out a life insurance policy on themselves that named this church as the beneficiary, and in their death helped to meet some critical needs in challenging economic times.  With some careful estate planning you can save your loved ones months of anguish over your legacy and leave a lasting impact in the ways that you would prefer.

A young Teddy Roosevelt and his brother can be seen looking out of the open-shuttered second story window of his grandfather's apartment in New York City, watching Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession pass by.

We can and should do our own funeral planning as well.  There has been a shift in funeral planning away from creating a service that reflects the spiritual realities that we profess to believe in the Christian faith.  Traditionally, the funeral was to be the end of the faithful saint’s march toward God, with close family and friends carrying them the last few steps that they are unable to take themselves.  Often now we have memorial services instead without the body there, which is natural for an event that is happening just a couple days after the person died.  It allows us to nurture the first stage in the grief process—denial, when we don’t have to see the body there.

We tend to personalize funerals now, replacing timeless liturgies and traditions with humorous tributes to the idiosyncrasies of the deceased.  You may have heard about the guy about a year ago that was buried in a Pittsburgh Steelers Jersey in the La-Z-Boy recliner where he’d sit to watch his favorite team.  I’m reading a book now where a funeral director says, “Now we’re more like event planners.”

Where is simplicity?  Where is majesty?  Where is the community carrying them the last few steps to God?  Where is the move from weakness to power?  From mortal to immortal?  Many say that the funeral is more for the living than the deceased, but if so, that is a recent development.  The death of the faithful has for centuries been accompanied by singing, by fellow travelers carrying them the last few steps of the journey.  If anything, the living need to see the deceased there so that this can become real, so that we can be confronted with our mortality and made to see that this world is not all there is.  We need to live in this life as if there is more than just this.  God intends more for us, more for this world, more for all of Creation.  The death of a follower of Jesus Christ is a sad day for us, for we have lost a friend, a co-laborer, a fellow disciple.  But the death of a follower of Jesus Christ is a joyful day for us, because our friend, our co-laborer, our fellow disciple has gone on to power, to glory, to immortality.  Please don’t cost us this joy because you didn’t take the time to plan for it.  It seems that something that momentous is worth some extra consideration.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ReEmergent Church, Katie Kirwin. Katie Kirwin said: Simple Majesty « ReEmergent Church http://bit.ly/b1VHiH […]

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