Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1
My skin crawled as I saw an article this summer, in a prominent newspaper, detailing one man’s quest to preserve himself forever, to forestall death, and to be able to ‘live’ again after his demise. Cryonics, the science of attempting to preserve the physical body with the intention of future resuscitation, has attracted the attention of a small sector of society. Apart from being an uber-egotistical idea, (after all, what is so wonderful about any of us that we would think we should be around forever?) the thought of cheating the afterlife is more terrifying than death itself. God has created each of us in his image, something we know from childhood on, and has promised us eternal life, paid for by his Son.
Where did the idea of endless earthly life come from? From a profound fear of death, and from a vacuum in our lives where God should be. Thankfully, this is not true of everyone, and while not all are believers in Jesus, the son of God, and in his resurrection, most of us would agree that death is indeed the end of life on earth. Faith in Christ removes the fear of that end.
Recently my husband and I had the opportunity to travel in Germany, and while there, a friend took us to visit an ancient Jewish cemetery. Used continuously by the surrounding townships since 1661, this large and beautiful old cemetery is in a secluded site, set among trees high on a hill overlooking the country village of Altengronau in Hessen. The last gravestones are from 1937, a sobering reminder of where Jews from that area died after that year. The peace and the sense of other-world-ness that pervaded the whole place was overwhelming, and we felt the nearness of people of God.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Hebrews we read of the ‘cloud of witnesses’, describing those who have lived and died before us, and now partake of the Life promised us. For those of us who remain, this thought brings deep comfort, and in fact, shows us that death is not an end, but a crown of glory over a life lived in obedience to God. Yes, the pain of separation exists, grief is real, but without this promise, it would be unbearable. My father, separated by death from his wife of 55 years, stood at her grave, and stated with conviction, “I do not understand it, but I believe in eternal life.” Less than four weeks later, he joined her in that Life. Their closeness to me on many occasions is not a fantasy. It is real, and through it, they remain part of my family.
When my parents died, I gained something I did not know I needed, but now cannot imagine living without. That is an awareness of the eternal, which, if we let it, will pervade our very being, and our daily lives.