In my wildest dreams I didn’t expect the reaction I got on Part 1 of “Life, death and just passing through”. The emails, phone calls, comments and talks over Coffee convinced me that this is one of the subjects that we need to talk about. The problem is that we don’t!
In Part 1 I talked about my “not understanding”. Although I don’t understand, I do experience the love of God. I touched on the fact that death is a natural occurrence – we all die.
Tonight I want to share with you my experience of dying people and how difficult it is for us to let go. I want to illustrate this with a true story.
Two years ago
I had the privilege to be in invited to Somerset-East for a Sermon series. We were due for take off from Cape Town International Airport at 09:00. While we had been sitting in the aeroplane
waiting for take off, the pilot announced that we had been delayed by one passenger. He continued by saying that when the person stepped aboard we should give him a sarcastic applause. This we did.
On take off the pilot was in a bit of a hurry and lifted the nose of the aeroplane too fast, resulting in the tail scraping the tarmac. This was a horrifying experience. As we had been gaining height, the pilot announced that for safety reasons we would land again immediately in order for the plane to be checked. The seat next to me was occupied by a young man from Korea. When we had started to approach the tarmac, we could see all the emergency vehicles speeding towards the runway according to safety procedures. The young man next to me grabbed onto my arm and I could see he was loosing it. I started to talk calmly to him and this seemed to work. We touched down safely and were escorted to the terminal where we were asked to stay together until further notice. The young man asked me why I had stayed so calm during the incident. I answered that I had been afraid but knew that regardless of anything that could happened, I would be in the arms of my Saviour. We were sitting close to one another and he started asking questions about God. As I was answering other people joined in the conversation. At one stage a lady said to me: “Stand up we can’t hear”. There we were nearly 90 people talking about God. We had been kept together while they were first checking the plane, then trying to get us on other flights, lastly we had to sit and wait for a plane to arrive from Johannesburg. We spend 7 hours together in the terminal with the airline bringing us food and drinks. 7 Hours where I stood answering questions about God. The amazing thing was that people were not only listening, but were asking questions. People who grew up in church, people who left church and people who never even been to church. That day God touched the hearts of a lot of people, more than a few excepted Jesus into their hearts and lives. At the end I was tired, my voice was hurting and I knew I had a week of preaching left. We could not go out to the main building and yet we could not get on to the plane. We were stuck with one another and this nagging question about what could had happened to us if we had crashed. We all longed to get on the plane and to reach our destination, but we were stuck in the terminal.
Many times when I visit the ICU I have the airport terminal experience. People who are not part of the “living world” anymore, but not part of the after life yet. Stuck in the “in-between”. Here I find a few groups:
- Group one is those who can’t wait to get to their destination. Their loving Father is waiting and they are longing to be with Him. The sitting around in the terminal is frustrating to them. This group is the people who have a living relationship with God and who are ready to go. Those people you ask what you can pray for them and they reply: “Pray that God will end my suffering and that He will come to fetch me” Those who are in pain, kept alive by machines but we are to scared to let go. Many times the family is not ready to let go, especially if it somebody young. We need to empower our loved one’s by talking to them about death. My family knows that I have a “Living Will”. This living will says that when I am in a state where it is only machines that keeps me alive, it is not their responsibility to make the decision to switch off the machines. I have already chosen. The machines must be switched off. By keeping me attached to life- supporting machines, may prolong my life by a day, a week or even a few months, but it would be like locking me in at the terminal, not living, not being with God. This is the group who looks back through the terminal window at their family waving with tears in their eyes, but who are ready to board the plane for eternity. The family knows that this person has a living relationship with Christ, and they know that it is the best to let him go. But their own longing to be we this person makes it difficult for them to let go. I have been in situations like this where they tried everything possible to hold on to this person. Selling their houses to cover the costs, at the end they have to let this person go. The result, the suffering was prolonged, financially and emotionally they were ruined and the person died anyway. We must learn to let go.
- Group two is those who, wantto go but are afraid. They cling to life because they are uncertain. Their uncertaincy frightens everyone they love. They cling to life, no they cling to the airport terminal between life en eternal life. The hospital ward where quality of life is missing, but there is life, a life of pain. They need people who would talk calmly with them, pray with them and who would help them to accept God’s word. For them this time “in-between” is a holy place. Like the people who sat with us for seven hours talking about God. They grew up in church, were living as Christians, but their relationship with Christ was not healthy. Or their relationship with the people around them were not healthy. For them the suffering becomes grace, that last minute where they find healing and peace. I could not begin to tell you how many families reconciled around a deathbed. People who cling to life until that peace has been made, then to die relieved. Don’t wait for that moment.
- Group 3 is those who do not have a relationship with God. You know this immediately when you walk into the waiting room at the ICU. It is like the young Korean boy who grabs your arm and you can see the fear. The reality of death has a way to cut through all our niceties. For these and their families the terminal between life and the after life becomes the place where life can begun or a place on horor. The grace to see a dying man who has shunned God his whole life accepts Him moments before he dies. To see the peace of God on their faces. The amazing love of God, His grace, His goodness amplified. I have seen plenty of families and friends meet Christ in this situation when we are robbed or our illusions of being in control.
- Group 4 are those who cannot choose anymore. Those who chose not to have a relationship with God. When they die, there is a hollow, empty sorrow.
Do we REALLY still believe that when we die, we are going to heaven and that we are going to be with God? That we are going to experience God’s fullness forever? If we REALLY believe, why do we act as if death is something wrong?
I believe! - 1 Co 15:53-58
53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
53Hierdie verganklike liggaam moet met die onverganklike beklee word, en hierdie sterflike liggaam met die onsterflike. 54En wanneer hierdie verganklike liggaam met die onverganklike beklee is, en hierdie sterflike liggaam met die onsterflike, dan sal die woord wat geskrywe staan, vervul word: “Die dood is vernietig, die oorwinning is behaal.” 55“Dood, waar is jou oorwinning? Dood, waar is jou angel?” 56Die angel van die dood is die sonde, en die sonde kry sy krag uit die wet van God. 57Maar ons dank God dat Hy aan ons die oorwinning gee deur ons Here Jesus Christus. 58Daarom, liewe broers, wees standvastig, onwankelbaar, altyd oorvloedig in die werk van die Here, omdat julle weet dat julle inspanning in diens van die Here nie tevergeefs is nie.