FROM A FUNERAL SERMON:
When Ralph told me about his mother’s last few months, during which she knew she was dying, I thought of the Latin phrase “ars moriendi.” The phrase means ‘the art of dying,’ and it comes from some books by that name written in the 1400’s. These books offered Biblical advice on procedures for a ‘good death’ explaining how a Christian can die well, taking comfort in their faith in Jesus Christ and the hope of the life to come. It is explained how believers can avoid despair and be at peace by being assured of the promise that Jesus has gone on ahead to prepare a place for them, and that upon one’s death, Jesus will return and receive the believer and bring them to their new home in heaven.
Hilda, after a lifetime of faith, knew those promises and did indeed find her comfort in them. I am sure she did not read any of those books about the art of dying, but she did, just like the books describe, have a good death, and did indeed die well. That is a comfort for us here today, and it bears witness to the power of the Christian faith when someone can face death with such hope and confidence.
Last summer, many of us who are here today, gathered in our fellowship hall to say good-bye to Hilda, before she moved to be near her family in Montana. She was still feeling pretty good, but just two weeks before that she received the diagnosis of the terminal cancer in her brain and that she would have only a few months to live. Yet it was clear even in the brief conversation I had with her that she was at peace with that, and that inner peace came from her faith. She was grateful for the good life God had given her, and she was now determined to be thankful for each and every remaining day that she would have. And when those days would run out, she was ready to die and go on to the next place that Jesus had prepared for her.
That is a pretty good way to approach life no matter what age you are, and whether or not you have a brain tumor. One might expect complaining and despair from someone in Hilda’s position, facing what she was to endure. But instead of complaining and despair, she displayed courage and gratitude and faith. And Hilda continued in that faith and with that peace until the end.
That is what you call in Latin, ‘ars moriendi,’ or in English, ‘the art of dying well.’
Back in Kansas, with her experience in the land of Oz behind her, Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” How true! But how easily we forget where our home really is. At death, the Christian doesn’t leave home. We go home: “We prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). Consider the paradox—our true home is a place we’ve never been! (Had we been there we could hardly bear to live here.)
Home is where our Father is (John 14:2). Our true home is far superior, the spiritual family there is vast and rich. The Great Reunion awaits us. We long for it.
When we understand what home really is, money and things lose their glitter. We finally see them as they have been all along: cheap imitations of the true and vast wealth that is ours as children of God.
C. S. Lewis puts it well: “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
–Randy Alcorn, at: www.epm.org
I found these words on a sympathy card; the writer’s name was not listed:
Death is God carrying us in one arm while His other arm flings aside heaven’s door;
To welcome us back to the blazing hearth of our eternal home;
While those inside, having arrived before us, rush to the door;
Like glad children, shouting “They’re here! They’re here!”
Death has a bad name on earth;
But in heaven, it’s a homecoming party everytime the door opens.
And God does not forget those earthbound children, sad and left behind.
God leaves the party early to enter into their despair,
And to get them ready for their own parties someday.
II Corinthians 5:1 — For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
II Corinthians 5:6-8 — Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
John 14:1-3 — (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed; and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Book of Common Prayer