Remember that you are dust…
Every year on Ash Wednesday, I have the privilege of smearing an ash cross on the foreheads of people of all ages and telling them that they are going to die.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
(Book of Common Prayer, page 265)
It is a remarkable reminder that we are merely sojourners on this planet, the hyphen between our birth and death dates containing all that we are and do while we are here.
In a recent Episcopal 101 class during which we discussed how we mark sacred time including the burial office, I revealed to the class some very specific yet often-overlooked rubrics (instructions) concerning preparing people for death. These rubrics are found not in the burial office but in the section called Thanksgiving for a Child (pp. 439-445).
The Minister of the Congregation is directed to instruct the people, from
time to time, about the duty of Christian parents to make prudent
provision for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make
wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their
temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for
religious and charitable uses. (p. 445)
No one likes to think about the prospect of dying, but it is a gift to those we will leave behind when we can prepare for the inevitable. It is an act of care and concern that is holy rather than morbid, because the lack of preparation can leave families in turmoil at a time when they are weighed down with grief.
One of the subjects in which clergy are (hopefully) trained during their formation and study is helping people prepare to die. Often this occurs when death is imminent or a terminal diagnosis is received. But these are conversations we should have with our partners and spouses, our children when they are old enough not to be frightened by the prospect of losing a parent, and anyone else with whom we have a meaningful relationship. As a hospice chaplain, I had many opportunities to facilitate these conversations with the dying, but I have also talked about funeral planning and wills and advance medical directives with perfectly healthy people who just want to be ready.
If this is you, I would be glad to talk about it.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:3)