Saturday, April 9, 2022

It is not death but retirement. . .

I am certainly not the first to suggest that the way we have come to treat death is very much like the way we treat retirement.  When you retire, they throw you a big party, recount the accomplishments of your life, give your family and friends an opportunity to share a memory, reunite you with people from your past, show pictures, send you off with a toast, and maybe do it all to the soundtrack of your favorite music.  Wait a minute.  Was I talking about retirement or a celebration of life?   

This celebration of life business is one more nail in the coffin of death.  We have killed it not by transcending it but simply by taming it -- we turned it into one of the stops on the circle of life.  It is not death to die not because death has changed but we have changed.  It is a retirement with a more permanent change of address.  And the odd thing is, either we dress up the dead so they can be part of it all or we cremate them and let their remains sit in for the body -- in a retirement party, the retiring people have to be present.

Part of the problem is the culture but part of it is in the Church.  We do not talk about death as death or as something Christ had to overcome -- the last enemy.  Instead we console to the point of making death what it is not.  Not everyone who dies goes to a better place.  Sainthood is not something we confer upon the dead (Rome has so watered down this by making so many, especially popes, saints that they have little to offer here).  Heaven is not some spiffed up version of our present reality (dad is not up there in his workshop or uncle on the golf course or grammy quilting or cousin watching movies and eating Slim Jims).  Because we have given up the idea that there is no farther presence from God, there can be no nearer presence either.  We do not offer real hope -- only a share in the tears, laughter, and get on with it that is life's seasons and journey.  We find our silly contentment more in spreading a little bit of ashes here and there and everywhere than we do a Savior who has died, lives, and will never die again.

One of the most telling things is that we always presume those in that better place are looking down on us, laughing at us and with us, shedding tears, as preoccupied with us as we are with our screens.  That is the virtual admission that the presence of God and heaven offer nothing better than a bird's eye view of the reality they left when they died.  Boo.  Hiss.  If that is all you have to say to me, don't bother.  If all I have to hope for -- either for my or my dead loved ones -- is to watch my life as if it were a movie, I would agree with the agnostic or atheist that it ain't worth it.

But we have so much more!  We have something to talk about -- not a pat on the back at the final retirement party before you enter your RV to eternity.  We have a heart cleansed from all sin and no longer taunted by the instinctive sinful desires left as our inheritance from Eden.  We have a freedom from timekeeping and crossing off things from a bucket list conceived because we knew we did not have long to fit everything in worth doing.  We have peace that does not flow from a good life or a great achievement or a Kodak moment -- peace that literally passes understanding.  We have a way to meet death as it is and to enjoy a victory over the grave -- in Christ!  We have comfort which does not promise that pain grows smaller but that life grows bigger -- with a view to the already but not yet state of our life in but not of the world.  We have a reality more real than what we see with our eyes or touch with our hands -- one that death and decay cannot touch.  We have the Lord who has gone first to cut the path and chart the way so that we might follow into the blessed reunion with God and those who loved His appearing.  We have more than a cleaned up version of today to count on but that which is beyond imagination.  

It is about time we started talking about it at the funeral and on Sunday morning and every other time we preach, teach, and catechize.  If we don't, not only will our people have lost the vision, they will have lost interest in any vision except a sanitized view of today, a heavenly retirement with loads of entitlements to guarantee we will be as happy as we were in life.  As good as this life is, I want more.  I pray you do as well.  Don't retire me to heaven or some better place.  Have a real funeral, shed some real tears, and offer my loved ones some real hope.  Something to gnaw on as we prepare to enter Holy Week....

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