We sung an old hymn at this morning's worship service partly in honor
of two long-time congregants who had passed away in the past year: one
at the age of 85 and one at the age of 92. As we sung, "For All the
Saints," I couldn't help but think of another former congregant who is
now a saint, although he wasn't in his 90's or 80's or even 70's,
60's, 50's, 40's, or 30's.
Glenn, one of my very best friends, passed away in 2004 at the age of
29. As we sang the hymn's second stanza - "Thou wast their rock,
their fortress, and their might; thou Lord, their captain in the
well-fought fight; thou in the darkness drear, their one true light" -
I could not help but think of my good buddy. Jesus was Glenn's light
and rock in all the fights and all the darkness he tackled in his
I was reminded this morning, as we sung, that death is a very bad
thing. Glenn's death was devastating to me, and even more so to his
wife, his sister, and his parents. Hundreds of people attended his
funeral, and it was a somber occasion.
I was also reminded this morning, as I was at Glenn's service, that
death is also a gateway to glory, and in that sense a very, very good
thing. Our pastor this morning sounded the apostle Paul's precious
words in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the church in
Corinth: "For now we see in a mirror dimly; but then face to face." O
what a glorious thought, that for all the goodness we see in God
today, we take in but a fraction of what it will be like to behold Him
in all His glory.
How is it that death can be both awful and wonderful? It is because
the Person and act that defines us as Christians: when Jesus submitted
Himself to death by crucifixion, He was simultaneously undergoing the
basest and vilest form of death and securing the greatest and most
convincing form of victory. In the name of One like that, and after
an act like that, why wouldn't it make the most sense in the world for
death to be simultaneously dreadful and welcome?
Finally, I am reminded that for as full of a life as Glenn lived, as
these two old-timers we celebrated this morning lived, when they died
they did so before the fullest fulfillment of what they had pointed
their whole lives towards. In a very real sense, they walked in the
footsteps of some of the great men and women of the faith, who the
author of the book of Hebrews described in this way: "All these died
in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and
having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they
were strangers and exiles on the earth."
Some people, dare I say most people, strive all their lives to
accomplish something and to make for themselves a name and a place for
themselves on this earth. And yet the Bible suggests that the
greatest and most highly exalted individuals for all eternity are
those who died not having enjoyed what they had worked their whole
lives towards, and who died more in touch with their foreignness with
this world than with their sense of belonging.
Some day, we will all die; what, then, will be said of us? If I can
help it, I want it to be that I too fought a good fight, spent and was
spent for the Kingdom, and welcomed death not as keeping me from
accomplishing more but as no longer keeping me from my true
PS I did a little digging on the hymn, and found this site: http://www.stpetersnottingham.org/hymns/saints.htm. The author's tireless work in the slums of London affirm the notion that the people who are most heavenly-minded are precisely those who are of the most earthly good. I also like the fact that he preferred public transit over private carriages!
For All the Saints (William W. How, 1864)
1. For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
2. Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou in the darkness drear, their one true light.
3. O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victor's crown of gold.
4. O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
5. And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
6. From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: