“Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)
Today is my friend's funeral day. I commemorated my friend all day long and prepared a sermon to share with those who remember him. The title of the sermon is “Even death is a gift from God.” As a pastor, I have officiated numerous funerals. But after my son passed away, I realized that funerals are not for those who have left us, but for the family and friends who remain. I believe it is even more so knowing our heavenly father embraces our son in heaven. God sent my friend to share precious time and ministry with us. So, we celebrate his life and our time and ministry together.
Some twenty years ago, the late Bishop Dale White lost his 29-year-old son who had died in a fall while climbing a snowy mountain in Colorado. I said my condolences to his wife who came to lead the spiritual retreat. “I am sorry about your son. May God's comfort be with you." Then, the mother said to me: “I have decided not to mourn the death of my son. Instead, I am giving thanks to God and celebrate every beautiful moment that I could have 29 precious years God allowed me to be with him.”
As I commemorate my friend today, I ask myself: “Am I ready to die, too?” We often view death so negatively as something to be overcome or avoided. But St. Paul sees death as a friend. Baptism means to die with Christ and to rise again with Christ. Therefore, to die well with Christ is a gift. Because by death we are united to Christ. To be united with Christ, we must share in his death.
In her book, Life Lesson, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross advises us that ‘People call me the doctor of death. I have been researching death for over 30 years. But people seem to be missing something really important. The most essential and important core of my research was to uncover the meaning of life…Life does not end when an incurable disease is diagnosed. That's where real life begins. The tragedy of life isn't that it's short, it's that you realize what's really important too late. Ironically, from the moment he is sentenced to death, he realizes what true life is.”