- In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Throughout the history of mankind, it has been understood that sickness, suffering, and (aside from a few exceptions) death are all unavoidable. Though we may wear masks to keep from getting sick, or or isolate ourselves to keep from getting hurt by others; though we may wear nice clothes, or have surgeries to prevent the signs of aging and our body’s deterioration, eventually it has to stop, and all that remains is to face death.
For someone who lives only for this life, without the hope of the next life, this realization can be very frustrating. Even to mention death can be offensive. But the remembrance of death is not mere morbidity, it is the greatest teacher and preparation for the Heavenly Kingdom. This is why our Lord said, “Be ready, because you do not know in which hour the Lord will come…” (Lk. 12:39, see also Matt. 25:13).
We are here today, our hearts softened with grief over the loss of someone we love. We are hearing these hymns and no doubt considering how our own lives might end, standing in the presence of death. Can you see how all of this is so beneficial for our souls? It makes us stop and think. When we consider how Brenda’s life changed over these last few years, how she grew closer to God, and tearfully desired salvation, it helps us to wonder about the purpose of our own life. It helps us to face not only our own death, but the living God.
In the monastery of St. Paul on Mt Athos, there is a puzzling inscription to be read over the entryway that says, “If you die before you die, then you won’t die when you die.”
The Lord’s own words explain this when He said, “whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25). The Holy Apostle Paul offers further explanation in his epistle to the Romans when he says, “do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? … For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be [united] in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Rom. 6:3, 5)
For Brenda, and for Orthodox Christians, death has already been encountered in baptism. It has not only been encountered, but has been defeated by our participation in Christ’s own death and Resurrection. If we have already faced our death, all that remains is to face God. Whether we die now in baptism, or we wait for our death to come unexpectedly, all that remains is to face God.
Standing here today alongside Brenda, do you notice how she is positioned here in the Church? Do you see the direction you are facing and the icon of Christ in front of us? Throughout history, the goal of every moment in the life of a Christian has always been just this: to face God. Why? Because this is how we will remain for all of eternity. We are given this life to recognize, to prepare for, and to participate in this encounter with God. Our experience of God now will follow us into eternity.
In some of Brenda’s final words to me over the last week, she expressed her frustration about not being able to come to Church, how she missed it and wanted to be here all the time because of how it made her feel. Truly, to be in the arms of the loving God is a fearful and awesome thing.
Today it is to this loving God that we commend our sister in Christ, your wife, your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother, and our friend. Let us now continue to pray that the Lord receives her into His heavenly Kingdom, and may her own desire to face God inspire us to do the same.