CHAPTER 1: FEAR OF WHAT COMES AFTER DEATH
Medicine cannot perform blood tests to tell us where our death will lead us. There is no x-ray or CAT scan that will penetrate the unknown to reveal what our future holds. What comes after death is a mystery. Yet, people of faith have expressed a vision that provides comfort, hope, and security as we consider dying, death, and the unknown. That faith shines through the Scriptures that record our ancestors’ struggle with the fear of death. By faith, we can make their story our own.
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
Many of the psalms offer words of comfort and the assurance that we are in God’s loving care.
The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me
to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised.
Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.
You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me;
you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
and your house will be my home as long as I live.
I praise the LORD, because he guides me,
and in the night my conscience warns me.
I am always aware of the LORD’s presence;
he is near, and nothing can shake me.
And so I am thankful and glad, and I feel completely secure,
because you protect me from the power of death.
I have served you faithfully, and you will not abandon me
to the world of the dead. You will show me the path that
leads to life; your presence fills me with joy
and brings me pleasure forever.
The LORD is my protector; he is my strong fortress.
My God is my protection, and with him I am safe.
He protects me like a shield; he defends me and keeps me safe.
This God — how perfect are his deeds! How dependable his words!
He is like a shield for all who seek his protection.
The LORD alone is God; God alone is our defense.
He is the God who makes me strong, who makes my pathway safe.
He makes me sure-footed as a deer; he keeps me safe on the mountains.
He trains me for battle, so that I can use the strongest bow.
O LORD, don’t stay away from me! Come quickly to my rescue!
Save me from the sword; save my life from these dogs.
Rescue me from these lions; I am helpless before these wild bulls.
I will tell my people what you have done;
I will praise you in their assembly:
“Praise him, you servants of the LORD!
Honor him, you descendants of Jacob!
Worship him, you people of Israel!
He does not neglect the poor
or ignore their suffering;
he does not turn away from them,
but answers when they call for help.”
I love the LORD, because he hears me; he listens to my prayers.
He listens to me every time I call to him.
The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed
in on me; I was filled with fear and anxiety.
Then I called to the LORD, “I beg you, LORD, save me!”
The LORD is merciful and good; our God is compassionate.
The LORD protects the helpless; when I was in danger, he saved me.
Be confident, my heart, because the LORD has been good to me.
The LORD saved me from death; he stopped my tears and kept me from defeat.
And so I walk in the presence of the LORD in the world of the living.
I kept on believing, even when I said, “I am completely crushed,”
even when I was afraid and said, “No one can be trusted.”
From the depths of my despair I call to you, LORD.
Hear my cry, O LORD; listen to my call for help!
If you kept a record of our sins, who could escape being condemned?
But you forgive us, so that we should stand in awe of you.
I wait eagerly for the LORD’s help, and in his word I trust.
I wait for the LORD more eagerly than sentries wait
for the dawn — than sentries wait for the dawn.
Israel, trust in the LORD, because his love is constant
and he is always willing to save.
He will save his people Israel from all their sins.
A heavenly banquet awaits those who trust in God’s everlasting care.
Here on Mount Zion the LORD Almighty will prepare a banquet for all the nations of the world – a banquet of the richest food and the finest wine. Here he will suddenly remove the cloud of sorrow that has been hanging over all the nations. The Sovereign LORD will destroy death forever! He will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. The LORD himself has spoken.
When it happens, everyone will say, “He is our God! We have put our trust in him, and he has rescued us. He is the LORD! We have put our trust in him, and now we are happy and joyful because he has saved us.”
Readings from the New Testament
Jesus told three stories about how God cares for those who are lost and celebrates when they are found.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them — what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbors together and say to them, ‘I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.
“Or suppose a woman who has ten silver coins loses one of them — what does she do? She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, and says to them, ‘I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!’ In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus went on to say, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger one said to him, ‘Father, give me my share of the property now.’ So the man divided his property between his two sons. After a few days the younger son sold his part of the property and left home with the money. He went to a country far away, where he wasted his money in reckless living. He spent everything he had. Then a severe famine spread over that country, and he was left without a thing. So he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him out to his farm to take care of the pigs. He wished he could fill himself with the bean pods the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything to eat. At last he came to his senses and said, ‘All my father’s hired workers have more than they can eat, and here I am about to starve! I will get up and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.” ’So he got up and started back to his father.
“He was still a long way from home when his father saw him; his heart was filled with pity, and he ran, threw his arms round his son, and kissed him. ‘Father,’ the son said, ‘I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.’ But the father called to his servants. ‘Hurry!’ he said. ‘Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Then go and get the prize calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast! For this son of mine was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.’ And so the feasting began.”
Like a loving shepherd, Jesus keeps us safe, and he assures us that we are always in God’s care. Jesus said:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never die. No one can snatch them away from me. What my Father has given me is greater than everything, and no one can snatch them away from the Father’s care. The Father and I are one.”
Through Jesus we are assured of eternal life. Jesus said:
“I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.”
Jesus promises that we will be with him always, in a place he has prepared for us.
“Do not be worried and upset,” Jesus told them. “Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.”
Jesus’ resurrection assures us of life everlasting with him. Women go to the tomb early in the morning; Jesus appears to the disciples later that day.
Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”
Then the women remembered his words, returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles. But the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; he bent down and saw the grave cloths but nothing else. Then he went back home amazed at what had happened.
Suddenly the Lord himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost. But he said to them, “Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself. Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can see I have.”
He said this and showed them his hands and his feet. They still could not believe, they were so full of joy and wonder; so he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of cooked fish, which he took and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are the very things I told you about while I was still with you: everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the writings of the prophets, and the Psalms had to come true.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And I myself will send upon you what my Father has promised. But you must wait in the city until the power from above comes down upon you.”
The apostle Paul assures us that we will live with Christ Jesus forever.
For surely you know that when we were baptized into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptized into union with his death. By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life.
For since we have become one with him in dying as he did, in the same way we shall be one with him by being raised to life as he was. And we know that our old being has been put to death with Christ on his cross, in order that the power of the sinful self might be destroyed, so that we should no longer be the slaves of sin. For when we die, we are set free from the power of sin. Since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that Christ has been raised from death and will never die again — death will no longer rule over him. And so, because he died, sin has no power over him; and now he lives his life in fellowship with God. In the same way you are to think of yourselves as dead, so far as sin is concerned, but living in fellowship with God through Christ Jesus.
When you were the slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. What did you gain from doing the things that you are now ashamed of? The result of those things is death! But now you have been set free from sin and are the slaves of God. Your gain is a life fully dedicated to him, and the result is eternal life. For sin pays its wage — death; but God’s free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.
The apostle Paul assures us that our mortal bodies will be changed into bodies that are immortal.
The truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised. For just as death came by means of a man, in the same way the rising from death comes by means of a man. For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ.
This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal.
For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” “Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt?” Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
The apostle Paul assures us that our eternal home is with God.
We know that when this tent we live in — Our body here on earth — is torn down, God will have a house in heaven for us to live in, a home he himself has made, which will last forever. And now we sigh, so great is our desire that our home which comes from heaven should be put on over us; by being clothed with it we shall not be without a body. While we live in this earthly tent, we groan with a feeling of oppression; it is not that we want to get rid of our earthly body, but that we want to have the heavenly one put on over us, so that what is mortal will be transformed by life. God is the one who has prepared us for this change, and he gave us his Spirit as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us.
So we are always full of courage. We know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’s home. For our life is a matter of faith, not of sight. We are full of courage and would much prefer to leave our home in the body and be at home with the Lord. More than anything else, however, we want to please him, whether in our home here or there.
2 Corinthians 5.1-9
The apostle Paul assures us that, because of Christ’s love for all and his sacrificial death, we are now Christ’s friends and we have been reconciled to God.
We are ruled by the love of Christ, now that we recognize that one man died for everyone, which means that all share in his death. He died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but only for him who died and was raised to life for their sake.
No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. Our message is that God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends.
Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5.14-21
The apostle Paul assures us of the hope we have because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Our friends, we want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will take back with Jesus those who have died believing in him.
1 Thessalonians 4.13,14
We have God’s promise of forgiveness because the blood of Jesus purifies us from every sin.
We write to you about the Word of life, which has existed from the very beginning. We have heard it, and we have seen it with our eyes; yes, we have seen it, and our hands have touched it. When this life became visible, we saw it; so we speak of it and tell you about the eternal life which was with the Father and was made known to us. What we have seen and heard we announce to you also, so that you will join with us in the fellowship that we have with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We write this in order that our joy may be complete.
Now the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If, then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. But if we live in the light — just as he is in the light — then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing.
1 John 1.1-9
Thoughts for Reflection
- Name one thing you could think or do that would increase your sense of trust that no matter what happens you are safe in God’s forgiving love.
- Meditate upon this for five minutes each day: “The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” (Psalm 23:1)
- If you are troubled by thoughts of going to hell, consider this question: “Would you send someone you loved to hell because that person was not perfect?” If not, do you imagine God, in God’s infinite love, will be equally as forgiving of you?
- If you find it is hard to believe that God forgives you, might it be that you are having a hard time accepting God’s forgiveness because you have not forgiven yourself? If this is true, what do you gain and what do others gain by your not forgiving yourself? What is it costing you and others to not forgive yourself? What right do you have not to forgive yourself if God has forgiven you?
- Talk to a chaplain or close, trusted friend about your concerns.
God, I have often struggled to give you my full self. In your love, forgive me for the times I have failed you and harmed others. There are things that I am not proud of. Help me forgive myself because I don’t seem to be able to do it by myself.
When death comes, help me give myself – body, mind and soul – to you, my full self to your full love. Bless me now that I may begin a new life, living in the joy of your unconditional love and forgiveness. Amen.