Several times in Genesis so far there has been a phrase that I think is just a beautiful phrase that we do not use much any longer. When Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each die in Genesis (I’m in the middle of the telling of Jacob’s death towards the end of Genesis), it says that when they died, they were gathered to their people. Its not used with anyone else in the stories of Genesis, just with these three. So there’s a deeper meaning to it and unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a lot of clarity to the meaning of the phrase. But for me, what it says to me is that they are brought into the company of those who had already died. I don’t have any idea of what the afterlife is like, nor is Scripture very explicit on it (other than noting that there is something), but I do believe that it exists and I do believe that there will be some kind of reunion where we will recognize those who have died before us. There will be gathering to our people when we die.
Death has been on my mind a lot the last few days because of the recent passing of several very public figures (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Glen Frey), the unexpected death of a former colleague in ministry here in our Presbytery, and several other passings including the world’s oldest man dying in Japan. Yes people die every day – in fact, statistics say that someone dies nearly every 2 seconds somewhere in the world. After hearing of Glen Frey’s death this morning, I’ve had my Eagles songs on a pretty consistent repeat through the morning. I never knew him obviously, but I loved much of his music. Similarly with Alan Rickman – our family watched Galaxy Quest the other night to remember him (the kids aren’t old enough yet for Die Hard). With my colleague in ministry, I took some time to remember the lunches that we shared at a bakery near the church he served as well as have been praying for his family and friends in their loss.
We each do our own things to remember those who have died in our lives. But the words I began with today – gathered to his people – really speaks to me about whoever it is who passes away – a hope of reunion with those who have died before us. To me, it is more than a hope, it is a promise and a reality through the gift that Christ has given. It gives me hope that when someone (or when I) passes away, that life does not end. Part of the funeral liturgy in the PCUSA has a beautiful prayer – “We give thanks that for _____ death is past and pain ended and that they have now entered into the joy of the eternal kingdom.” Amen…
So, the shuffle on my music has moved onto “Take it to the Limit.” Good stuff.