The words don’t go together, Christian death. It’s an oxymoron, maybe it’s a diptych.
The following is a guest post by Rae Shrock. Rae is the editor and creator of the beautiful, slick, full color Daughters of Promise Magazine, available online and in hard copy.
“The magazine has expanded to include many gifted writers, photographers, and fellow visionaries who share a common passion to encourage women in their faith. DOP is unique in that it is primarily written by women of the Anabaptist denomination. We are a diverse mix, but we share a common love for set-apartness, experiential Christianity, and Jesus.”
Rae was inspired to write this article, which is almost a poem, by the Christian deaths of friends and neighbors near her. She is young, but death experiences reach us all on a deep and common level. Rae’s gift with words will bring her experience close to your heart and gently warm you with her hope and ours. The young mother, Elizabeth, whom she mentions toward the end is my precious daughter-in law. My son is the husband who awoke that morning a widower. Her three young children are my full-of-life grandchildren.
Thank you, Rae, for bringing us all the Light of Hope in this article.
The Last Amen
By Rae Schrock
We live to die.
From the first filling of virgin lungs, the process begins.
Life. It is framed by the handles of time: when we begin, and when we end.
Grasped by the Giver and handed to us, a gift of grace.
Life is a gift.
And to most radiantly honor the Giver, the gift of life lived must glorify Him. Must be full to the brim of worship, one breath after another,
Inhaling Christ. Exhaling praise.
So, as we live to worship, we die to say ‘Amen’.
Could this be the point of it all? To have lived so well that the last breath I draw simply echoes the brevity of all my time here, an exclamation point to the life He gave? God, glorified. Christ, adored. Worship pulsing, filling, spanning the whole of my one solitary life. Death, pronouncing the awe-choked, hands-raised ‘Amen’, to a life fully lived. A glorious ‘Let it be’ to the worship of a life fully laid down to Christ.
If I live to worship,
If I live to die,
Then let death be my final declaration of love. Let it be shouted from my slow- beating heart and emptying lungs that HE was why I lived. That every moment; every bead of choking grief, exhausting labor, tempestuous trial, was encapsulated in the radiant joy of being His. Pearls strung along the strand of time, my every moment was meaningful because it was for Him.
I see the Garden. And beyond, the cross. I glimpse the Son of Man, torn with grief, writhing against the weight of humanity’s sins & the crushing blows of death itself, laying open tattered ribbons across His back. And as blood-caked, sun-scorched lips part to breathe last words, the words that split sky, shook earth, slashed listening ears of demons, & leaped in the hearts of every man who has caught their reverberations throughout the ages; as Jesus embraced what all humanity must, He embraced us more.
It is finished.
Not life, but death!
The words thunder in my heart. They shatter fear, split doubt …wide. He has faced what His every child must.
The most beloved friend of man…He too tasted the grave.
This man, the Friend of sinners, who could look into eyes and see heart, whose gaze awakened depths of vulnerability and heights of safety as had never before been known…
This God-man, who taught love, and lived mercy….who embraced the weak, and flung far the chains of the enslaved,
This Man. This Jesus.
My Savior. Your Savior.
Can you, who has stood at the grave of precious friends gone too soon, imagine the depth of grief His friends knew as they watched that last ragged breath leave His lungs? Could they have known in that moment what we know now?
That He lived to die.
He embraced the grave so that we might never again be soul-torn by the nauseating, searing voice of death’s final word.
For me, He tasted death. For you He entered the grave.
That we may know,
That once and forever
Death is overcome!
He lived to die.
That by His one death, all men may live.
Death is the final ‘Amen’, the triumphant last sentence of this frail human story written. It is the flourishing signature of the Author, the closing chapter of a glorious Romance between the Groom who has now come for His bride.
It is at once the conclusion of an earthly tale, and the introduction of an eternal story—one of glorious, unending Life with Christ. Face to face with Love Himself; to be fully, finally free. To dance in pure, mind-spinning joy, free of pain. All memory of sorrow vanquished. The shackles of shame and stumbling broken forever.
To die is to live.
To sign off with joy,
And to step across the threshold into the glory of unhindered intimacy and complete rest, and the Life for which the soul was created.
It is to say, ‘I have loved you my Savior. I am coming Home.’
His mansions await, raised by the precious blood of Christ.
To die is to live. And to hear our overcoming Savior say,
Across the field I hear singing.
It is Elizabeth’s church family, singing to Jesus. My heart quakes as they declare words of faith, carved from the grief, music soaring to the ears of the Father:
The sun comes up—it’s a new day dawning
We’ve come to sing your song again!
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
Bless the Lord O my soul, O my soul
Worship His holy name!
Sing like never before, O my soul!
I’ll worship Your holy name.
And my heart hurts, because I know that her husband woke up this morning a widower. Her 3 small children will never again rouse, sleepy-eyed, to her gentle songs and tender touch. The gift of her lifetime presence was tugged away. And the church that stood rock-solid with them in a 9 month war against cancer must go on together in the absence of a beautiful, godly woman.
The whole community is touched. Even those who didn’t know her grieve. Thirty-two year old Mamas aren’t supposed to die. Couldn’t God have saved her? Why take a precious, faithful believer in the zenith of her life?
They sing & they surrender. They drench their hearts in worship because it is all you can do when grief is so thick it chokes lungs and runs over like a tidal wave.
They worship in loss because they know a secret:
That today, Elizabeth lives.
Our precious Savior held His head in the Garden and pled with His Father, numb with the suffering we too know… & humbled Himself, and became obedient to death—
So that we must never again know death’s cruel finality.
Elizabeth’s death & Anja’s & Rachel’s & April’s & Gwen’s & Marcus’ & all the other thousands and millions of the faithful who have received the Author’s signature.
They lived to worship their Jesus.
Death is their ‘Amen’.
How our hearts soar as we raise our hands through the waves of grief and say ‘Amen’ too, gazing ahead with the hope of life everlasting.
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name.