“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Today we gather on the 19th anniversary of 9/11/2001 to support each other in our loss, to celebrate the bravery and courage of those who rushed to assist, and to be consoled in the promises our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ left to His faithful.
Jesus changed our understanding of what we have and where we are going. Death is no longer an ending. Death is not extinguishing the light for the Christian. Rather, death is putting out a dim lamp because a bright new glorious dawn has come no matter how it comes.
On this day our hearts grieve deeply over loss, yet we are undeniably grateful for the life of people of faith and good will killed on 9/11 and thereafter.
On this day, 19 years ago, we lost brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, volunteers, colleagues, friends and mentors. People always there were no longer there. Yet for many of them that new dawn had come.
In the midst of grief, we take this time to re-connect with the lesson that the cancer of terror cannot kill love. It cannot shatter faith. It cannot eat away hope. It cannot corrode peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot cripple friendships. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection. It cannot stop the new dawn.
We can find great comfort and understanding in the Bible so that we might face each day in faith. St. Paul’s letters to the Philippians 1:19-23 states, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain….“
We have to compare the statement: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain… “ to the empty alternatives that hold only hopelessness and ending. Among them are:
If for me to live is hatred, then when I die it is a loss.
If for me to live is money, then when I die it is a loss.
If for me to live is self, then when I die it is a loss.
If for me to live is ambition, then when I die it is a loss.
If for me to live is sin, then when I die it is a loss.
If for me to live is worldliness, then when I die it is a loss.
In this context, the faithful Christian who lives in Christ finds in death a gain.
Let us share, on this solemn day, four ways that for the Christian faithful, no matter how we arrive at it, death is gain.
First, WE GAIN A BETTER BODY.
Christians receive a glorified, immortal, eternal resurrected body. In the present body of clay, we are subject to all the sorrows and tears that earthy life brings our way. Terror, fear, age, sickness, and finally death are the inevitable companions of this tent made out of the dust of the ground. But in death and in the resurrection of the dead we gain a new body, a perfect body like unto our Savior. A body that can never grow old, never know disease, never experience terror, never suffers pain, and can never die. We gain a better body.
The second way for the Christian that death is gain is: WE GAIN A BETTER HOME.
The experience of dying, especially if suffering is involved, is not pleasant to contemplate. Even so, for the Christian, death means going Home. It means being ushered into the presence of our Savior! It means a departure from this world, with all its trials and heartaches, to the blessings and joys of heaven. Paul spoke about his “desire to depart and be with Christ.”
The Greek word translated “departure” is significant. It was used metaphorically as a nautical term for when a vessel pulls up anchor and loosens its moorings so it can set sail. The word was used in a military terminology when an army broke encampment to move on. In the ancient Greek world this term was used also for freeing someone from chains, and for the severing of a woven piece from its loom. Departure was freedom.
This departure for another place is how death is described in the Bible. Here, we are anchored to the hardships and heartaches of this life. In death, the gangway is raised, the anchor is lifted, and we set sail. In death, we break camp to start for heaven.
Whatever the beauty and the embellishments of any house we may possess in this world, it is nothing to be compared with our place in the beautiful city of God. According to the promise of Christ Jesus in John 14:1-3, our Lord has been preparing a place for us in heaven, a place especially designed for us. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people.
The third way for the Christian that death is gain is: WE GAIN A BETTER INHERITANCE.
Our final inheritance is not here. It is in heaven. No matter what Aunt June or Uncle Henry might leave us, our final reward is not here, it is in heaven. It is only beyond the gates of death that we ever hear the precious words of our Lord, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21). Enter into your inheritance.
All the demands of discipleship that Christ had placed upon us and which we work to faithfully fulfill are rewarded in a way that is beyond our present comprehension. For those killed, they are more alive than they had ever been. They are appreciating more deeply than they thought possible, and experiencing more fully, the glory, wonder and worship of Jesus whom they loved so faithfully. For to them, “to live was Christ” so they have gained that inheritance.
The fourth way for the Christian that death is gain is: WE GAIN ETERNAL FELLOWSHIP.
All of us in this world live in a dissolving family circle. 9/11/2001 brought that reality to the fore as the current COVID crisis has as well.
A mother is gone, or father is gone, or a child is gone, or our grandparents are gone, or friends are gone, or a brother or sister is gone. If we live long enough, we shall be strangers here. Everyone we knew and loved will be gone. But the circle is unbroken in heaven. There is no death there, no separation. We live in community and fellowship eternally. We proclaim it in the Creed each week: I look for the life of the world to come. Real life.
What should be our attitude toward death? Is it something that we cringe before, something we pray against, something we dread, a terrible and awesome sentence on our lives? Whether death comes suddenly or slowly, is this to be our attitude toward dying? As stated earlier, it depends on our IF statement. If for to me to live is Christ, then to die is gain. If to die is gain, then we should walk confidently each day toward the bright dawn that awaits us. It is so much better than the dim lamp of today.
God promises that it is better over there than it is here for those of us who look in faith to Him, who continue to persevere and work for His kingdom. 9/11 reminds us of the importance of that work. God says that we will have a new body, a better home, an inheritance delivered, and eternal fellowship when we are called HOME. God has prepared something so much better for His faithful. We will be with those who have been redeemed from all the ages. We will sit down at table with Abraham, Moses, and Job, with the apostles and prophets, with the children of God though all the centuries. Best of all, we will experience our Lord Himself breaking bread for us. Amen.