Photo from The Bible movie website.

At the end of all things

She was wearing a bright red sweater. We sat in her living room chatting, as we had countless times before. There was a party going on in the background, and I was vaguely aware of my kids running in the yard outside in the sunshine.

She laughed, and stood up.

“Judy!” I gasped. “You’re walking!”

“I know!” she beamed, with the most brilliant of smiles. Off she went, probably to check on what mischief the little ones were getting into.

And then I woke up.

It was the morning of Judy’s memorial, a day we spent celebrating the life of a vivacious lady who had spent 25 years as a paraplegic, her body confined to a wheelchair, her spirit most definitely not. She died a few days before, as the early morning sunlight of a beautiful winter day streamed through her hospital window.

I’ve had few dreams that really mean anything. But this one was so real, so vivid. I think God sent it, to remind me that my friend lives on, in full colour, in full movement, in full glory, dancing in the sun.

Judy did not have an easy home-going. She struggled so much over the years, especially in her last days. But in all that time, she lived well. She never let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something, she loved and cared for dozens of children (her “wheelchair babies” she called them), she had hundreds of friends, and even toward the end she was asking after her caregivers’ families and ministering to those around her.

Her dying was not easy. But she died as she lived, full of grace and beauty. She died well.

Dying is scary. I’ll be honest; it terrifies me. Oh, I’m happy to expound on how great heaven will be, but the process of getting there isn’t such a welcome prospect. I know I’m not alone. In fact, death and dying has been at the forefront of some major news in the last few months.

Just a few weeks ago, the Quebec legislature barely averted a vote that could have seen the province become the first in Canada to legalize voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. (The issue is far from over as it will likely be back for consideration in the National Assembly this month.)

Meanwhile in BC, a judge ruled that caregivers must continue to feed an elderly Alzheimer’s patient, even though her family says her wishes were always that she be allowed to die should she become incapacitated by the disease.

In Belgium, the government recently legalized euthanasia for terminally ill children, just the latest in major acceptance of euthanasia in that part of the world.

These are serious issues, with major moral and ethical implications. How do Christians approach death and dying in a way that maintains sanctity of life, that blesses the last days, that gives dignity to the one finishing their earthly journey? How do we consider our own end of days?

Even Jesus did not look forward to dying. He pleaded with His Father to change what was coming, what would be a horrible, excruciating death, unjust and bloody. There were no “end-of-life” measures taken for Him, save some sour vinegar and a mother’s whispered comfort from far below.

But He was ready. He would give it all to His very last breath. He would die well. And of course, 2,000-some years later, we know the rest of the story. His death was the beginning of life itself. Jesus beat death back, defeated it, forever.

Jesus’ resurrection, His promise that death isn’t the end, gives us hope, and reason to fight for the sanctity of all life beginning, middle and end. Live well. Die well. Not necessarily easily or quietly, but well.

Perhaps the old hymn says it best:

Crown him the Lord of life,
who triumphed o’er the grave,
and rose victorious in the strife
for those he came to save.
His glories now we sing,
who died, and rose on high,
who died, eternal life to bring,
and lives that death may die. 

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