In the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Confessions, the Brief Statement of Faith begins and ends with the statement, “In life and in death, we belong to God.” That simple assurance has been a tenet of reformed faith since Calvin wrote The Church Institutes. It is important to remind ourselves of this truth in light of the reality that just this week a number of our friends and colleagues have experienced the death of a loved one.
While we all know that one day we will die, I am reminded of the words of a former church member, Totsie Sifford. Totsie called me one day and said, “Bill you need to come see me.” So I went to visit Totsie, who had already passed her 80th birthday. She shared with me that she had just received a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS is a devastating progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Totsie made a profound statement, “You know, Bill, I always knew I was going to die but I did not think it would be from something like this.” That is a reality for all of us. While we know that we will die, we never expect it, and because of our lack of being able to grasp that reality, we are always shocked when it comes.
Years ago one of my professors at Gardner-Webb, Dr. Lewis, said to me, “Bill, a person’s life is as long as it takes for that person to go from birth to death. For some, that may be 10 years, for others 30 or 40 or 50, and for a few, 80, 90 or 100, but however long our life is, it is not measured in the number of our days but in what we contribute and the joy we bring to those around us.” While the death of anyone is a tragedy, there is a larger reality that each of our lives has value and meaning and we, sometimes without even realizing it, have a great impact on others.
In the Heidelberg Catechism, the first question is, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” And the answer given is, “ That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
May we know that in life and in death we belong wholeheartedly to Christ.