An Exhortation To Create Space To Speak Of Dying—A Liturgy From Every Moment Holy Vol. 2


Today is Ash Wednesday, a day set aside by the Christian church to remember our mortality. Speaking of death can be uncomfortable, so we're grateful for this wise exhortation from Douglas McKelvey's forthcoming second volume of Every Moment Holy, courtesy of The Rabbit Room.

Children of the Living God, 

Let us now speak of dying,
and let us speak without fear,
for we have already died with Christ, 
and our lives are not our own. 

Our dying is part of the story 
that God is telling to us,
and part of the story
that God is telling through us. 

It is not a dark and hopeless word
we must take pains to skirt or 
mention only in hushed whispers lest 
our conversations grow awkward 
and uncomfortable. 

Rather, death is a present and 
unavoidable reality, and one 
through which we—the people 
of God—must learn to openly 
walk with one another. 

Yes, it is cause for lament. Death is 
a horrible and inevitable sorrow. 
It is grief. It is numb shock and 
raw pain and long seasons of 
weeping and ache. And we will 
experience it as such. 

But it is more than all of that. 

For is is also a baptism,
a prelude to a celebration. 

Our true belief that Christ died 
and was raised again
promises this great hope: 

That there will be a newness of life,
a magnificent resurrection that 
follows death and swallows it entirely. 

Death will not have the final word, 
so we need not fear to speak of it. 

Death is not a period that ends a sentence. 
It is but a comma,
a brief pause before the fuller thought 
unfolds into eternal life. 

Beloved of Christ, do not
hide from this truth: Each of
us in time must wrestle death.
In our youth we might have run
in fear from such lament, but only 
those who soberly consider their 
mortal end can then work backward 
from their certain death, and so begin 
to build a life invested in eternal things. 

We should remember death throughout 
our lives, that we might arrive at last 
well-prepared to follow our Lord
into that valley, and through it, 
further still, to our resurrection. 

Death is not the end of life.
It is an intersection—a milestone
we pass in our eternal pursuit of Christ. 

Yes, death is an inhuman, hungering thing. 
But it is also the pompous antagonist in a 
divine comedy. Even as it seeks to destroy
all that is good, death is proved a near-sighted 
buffoon whose overreaching plans will fail, 
whose ephemeral kingdom will crumble. 

For all along, death has been blindly serving 
the deeper purposes of God within us— 
giving us the knowledge that
all we gather in this short life will soon 
be scattered, that all we covet will soon 
be lost to us, that all we accomplish by 
our ambition will soon be rendered as 
meaningless as vapor. 

Death reveals the utter vanity of all our 
misplaced worship and all our feebly-
invested hopes. 

And once we’ve seen, in light of death,
how meaningless all our human strivings 
have been, then we can finally apprehend 
what the radical hope of a bodily resurrection 
means for mortals like us—and how 
the labors of Christ now reshape
and reinterpret every facet of our lives, 
rebuilding the structures of our hopes
till we know that nothing of eternal worth will ever be lost. 

Yes, we are crucified with our Lord,
but all who are baptized into his death
are also resurrected into his life, so that
we live now in the overlap of the kingdoms 
of temporal death and eternal life— 
and when it is our time to die,
we die in that overlap as well,
and there we will find that our dying has 
already been subverted, rewritten, folded in, 
and made a part of our resurrection. 

Have we not all along been 
rehearsing Christ’s death and
his life in the sacrament of his 
communion? We have been both 
remembering and rehearsing 
our union and reunion with him. 

O children of God, do you now see? 
Your pursuit of Christ has always 
demanded a daily dying to your own self, 
and to your own dreams. 

That final, brief sleep of death is but the last 
laying down of all those lesser things, that 
you might awake remade, set free, rejoicing 
in the glorious freedom that will be yours. 

Yes, hate death!

It is an enemy—
but an enemy whose end approaches, and 
whose assault can inflict no lasting wound. 

Yes, weep and grieve! 

But more than that, believe!
The veil is thinner than we know. 
And death is thinner still.
It cannot hold any whose names are 
dearly known to God. Rejoice in this! 
Death is neither a grey void, nor
a dungeon cell—but a door.
And when Christ bids us
pass through at last,
we pass from life to Life. 

Amen.

Every Moment Holy, Vol. 2: Death, Grief, and Hope, is a book of liturgies for seasons of dying and grieving–liturgies such as "A Liturgy for the Scattering of Ashes" or "A Liturgy for the Loss of a Spouse" or "A Liturgy for the Wake of a National Tragedy." These are ways of reminding us that our lives are shot through with sacred purpose and eternal hopes even when, especially when, suffering and pain threaten to overwhelm us. 

The book releases April 14, 2021 and is available for pre-order from Rabbit Room Press.