By Chris Brekke
Sometimes a person will get to the point where they are not sure whether it’s better to live or to die. On most of our pleasant and prosperous days in this blessed nation, we just cruise on with life. With little depth of awareness, we will often go about our days with things to do and places to go and people to see. We’re quite occupied with so many things. That can become the normal state of affairs. One could say that we are normally blissfully ignorant. But not always. Someday, there will come an off-ramp from easy street and we will be face to face with our mortality. If the situation is grim enough we may even wonder if death might be preferable. I have friends faced with the terrible decision to either trudge on with painful cancer treatments, or, “get their affairs in order”. Perhaps you do as well.
The prospect of death is on the mind of St. Paul in Philippians 1:21-26. He is sitting in a prison cell, probably in Rome, with plenty of service scars accumulated, a legion of opponents out to get him, and a possible execution looming. Death may be near; and because of his assurance of the resurrection in Christ, Paul almost longs for it. His “desire is to depart and be with Christ”. He is “hard-pressed” on earth, so the heavenly banquet is quite inviting. Paul knows that death is not the end for the Christian; it is a promotion!
Yet while we “remain in the flesh” there is valuable work to be done. You can sense Paul’s tilt toward staying on earth for now, because he still has work to do. There is “fruitful labor” for him that is “necessary on your account.” For Paul and for us, as long as God gives us breath, in ways large or small, we are employed by the King of Love. As Paul puts it in Romans 14:8 “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” We know not what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.
One day at a time, we live for Christ. In this life and the next – in today and in tomorrow – we glory in Jesus.
Philippians 1:21-26 — For to me, to live is Christand to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Romans 14:7-9 — For none of us lives for ourselves alone,and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
II Corinthians 4:18-20 — Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
support us all the day long of this troubled life,
until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in thy mercy,
grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest,
and peace at the last.
–Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890)