I find myself wondering from time to time if our new church property doesn’t need a churchyard.
That’s a word we don’t use much anymore. But google it and you’ll learn that in parts of western Europe centuries ago it was common for churches to have a patch of land adjoining or surrounding a local church that was used as a graveyard or a burial place for church members.
I know that putting tombstones next to your parking lot or adjoining the church building itself is not a particularly seeker sensitive idea. But to my thinking, it would serve all of us well to have a reminder of the certainty of our eventual end of life on earth as we come to worship God.
We avoid talking about or thinking about death. We use softer language when the subject comes up. We talk about passing on or passing away. Death is a cold, fearful reality for us. The grave is a place of darkness. It takes us into the unknown. Death is something we can’t control and over which we have no ultimate power.
But death comes for everyone. Like it or not, there is a funeral in your future. We don’t know the day or the hour. But we can say with certainty that this life will come to an end for every one of us at some point.
In his book, The Last Thing We Talk About, Joseph Bayly writes: “Dairy farmer and sales executive live in death’s shadow, with Nobel Prize winner and prostitute, mother, infant, teen, and old man. The hearse stands waiting for the surgeon who transplants the heart as well as the hopeful recipient, for the funeral director as well as the corpse he prepares. Death spares none.”
Some of you are wondering why I brought this subject up in the first place. It’s because I recognize that as a pastor, one of my primary jobs is to help you be ready for that day. What happens in this life matters. A lot. But what happens in this life does not matter as much as what happens next.
And that’s the question, isn’t it. What happens next? How can we know what’s ahead for us?
The honest answer? No one can answer that question with any empirical certainty. The scientific method I was taught in school fails to provide us with an answer to the question. There is no way to propose a hypothesis, text the hypothesis and then retest to verify your findings.
So we’re left with speculation. With beliefs that can’t be validated. Some people believe that when you die, you cease to exist. Others think you come back to live on earth in another body or another life form of some sort. The Christian answer to the question is that we transition from life in this world to another kind of life or state of being.
Into the middle of that debate comes Jesus who, in Luke 7 first brings back to life the daughter of a Roman centurion, and who then stops a funeral procession, touches a dead boy’s body and brings him back to life.
The same Jesus waits until his friend Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days before He calls him to come forth, alive.
The same Jesus who Himself is crucified, dead and buried and on the third day ascends from the dead.
I think it makes sense to pay attention to what He says about what happens when you die, don’t you?
Jesus teaches us that your funeral is not the end of you. The Bible says that when we die, we will face divine judgment.
Somewhere, there is said to be a gravestone that had this warning placed on it:
“Consider young man as you pass by
as you are now so once was I.
As I am now you soon will be.
So prepare, young man to follow me.”
It is said that someone added a couple of lines to that grave marker:
“To follow you is not my intent
until I know which way you went!”
The atheist’s claim that when we die we cease to exist is not based on any evidence. It’s pure speculation.
The reincarnationist’s suggestion that we come back in another body or life form is an hypothesis based on speculation as well. People can make the claim, but there’s no way to put their claim to the test and substantiate it.
But the Christian claim that there is judgment and eternal life beyond the grave is not based on speculation. It’s based on the testimony of a credible witness. Someone who raised others from death to life. Someone who Himself was crucified, dead and buried and who ascended on the third day.
Our faith in the teaching of Jesus about life after death is not blind faith. It’s faith based on the credibility of the witness and it’s validated by His power over death. It’s not a case of what I believe vs. what someone else believes. It’s the case of what you believe vs. what Jesus says. And He has the credentials to back up His claims. You don’t.
What happens when we die is one of the great mysteries of life that will remain a mystery until death comes for us. We can reject what Jesus says about the afterlife. But if we do, we’re choosing to reject the evidence He offers and to embrace our own intuition or empty speculation.
Believing that you will cease to exist or that there is no judgment ahead will not make it so.
And I have to wonder if the regular practice of walking past tombstones might help us think a little more carefully and deeply about what is ahead for every one of us.
The forecast for this Saturday is for rain. Assuming we get a thunderstorm or two and not an all day soaking, we’ll plan to head down to our new church building for tours and a time to mark up the studs before the walls go up.
Here are a few pictures of what’s happening at the building site. Exciting days!
And here’s the update on your giving toward our $213,000 building fund. So far, we’ve received gifts totaling $89,260! We still have $7,870 in matching gift funds that are available. Any amount you give toward the building fund today will be matched dollar for dollar until the remaining matching funds are gone.
Your gifts or pledges now will help us be able to move forward with key purchases in order to be better equipped for our projected opening day in September.
I want to ask you again to pray about making a gift this month to the building fund. You can write a check or give on line. Simply write “Building fund match” in the check notation line.
Again, thanks to all who have already given, and thanks in advance for your ongoing generosity and your prayers.
I had a pretty exciting day on Monday. And a pretty interesting conversation that ties into our study in 1 John. I’ll have details for you on Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!