Leanne and I were a bit stunned when listening to the news the other night. We heard about a new way to deal with death. The funeral company, Alfred James, is giving people the opportunity to send their departed loved one off into space. The New Zealand based company is called Stardust Me. We can now be ‘remembered among the stars’. One gram of the ashes of your loved one can hitch a ride of one of Elon Musk’s Space X Falcon 9 rocket as it orbits the earth for about ten years before disintegrating when re-entering earth atmosphere. We can follow the gram of ash on a phone app.
The company is quite up front about what they are trying to do – besides make money.
“We are trying to change the narrative around death from being that ‘finality”. There is death and there is an end but it’s also about celebrating all those wonderful things we remember about our family member.”
We can agree. It is good to remember the good things about our loved ones who have died. But why the rocket and why the stars? Why space?
Maybe this scheme taps into that often heard belief that our loved ones ‘became stars’ or go to some other unearthly place to live forever until we see them again … As if we all have an eternal spirit that lives on apart from our bodies and the best life is not here on earth but totally disconnected from it.
Friends, this is not true according to the Word of God. We have no ‘eternal spirit’ that takes flight at the moment of death that joins angels in some cloudy harp music filled space that has nothing to do with our bodies or this earth. This earth and this body are God’s good creation. He lives here with us in the risen Jesus who fills ‘all in all’.
Death is final from our point of view. It is painful and hard and real and it does end things and yet, only by faith in the One who actually conquered death for us (who did not burn up upon re-entry in 44AD!) we shall rise – bodily, spiritually – all of me and we shall be in joy in the new heaven AND EARTH with all those who have died awaiting the last great day of resurrection for those living at the time and those who have already fallen asleep in the embrace of Jesus, the first to rise so that many more could follow him there.
How often I have stood with many of you around graves of lost loved ones and pondered what life and death are really about.
We stand around the grave as the coffin sits suspended for our final words of thanks, respect and prayer before it descends into the ground …
And then there is a moment of deep questioning. What becomes of this loved one? What becomes of me? What becomes of human beings? What are human beings, and is God really mindful of us?
Some say no. If this is how it ends, then either rail against God if he even is, or, just give in to this death and give up on God. Aim for the stardust instead. All you have is the here and now and the self and rockets.
Shall we rail against a distant God who is some watchmaker who sets the world going but now is not involved who does not spare us the pain of this? Or should we rail against a powerless God who can’t stop this inevitable end and its pain?
If so, how do we rail? How do we protest?
Keep busy. Pursue valued items and achievements. Accumulate, consume, use, benefit, build self and for self. In a more noble form, build for those close. Work, accumulate, establish, set up the kids and the family for the future with this life you have, so when this time comes for your grave, they will continue on with things, at least. You might be remembered for a while … or not.
Or, give up on God altogether. Go for the Stardust me. After all if the sum of my life will be in that little dash between the date of birth and date of death on my headstone, then what was all the hard work, the accumulation and consuming, the ticking off the bucket list the patience in trouble, the joy and everything else about me mean anyway? It all seems to come to nought …
I have met these responses in many people. I have found them within myself at times.
What will bring respite? What will change the narrative on death? Will a ten year trip around the earth on a rocket really do it?
What if instead of leaving planet earth alone Someone came to it? What if the One who flung the stars into space walked the ground and was baptised in the river? What if instead of going down into the grave and escaping to the stars, someone actually came up out of the grave and kept walking this ground?
What if the person who sprang up from the grave for all to see was a real person still – a living, breathing human being … still? And what if the person was still so human as to eat fish, drink water and have scars on his body that another man could touch. And most importantly, what if this once dead man is alive and still speaks to us now – at the grave and right here before it?
I feel my body and soul rising … I don’t need a rocket. I need him. I don’t need to escape his earth, I need to live on it and love it as he loves me.
I am interrupted by a stunning new possibility. The bee has no sting. The picnic can go on uninterrupted. It may be possible to rise from my grave? That box and that hole or curtain may not be the last word on my life or anyone else’s life.
But who and how, and can I believe this?
No and yes. No, you cannot make this belief up from your own thinking. But yes, you can possess this belief if received as a gift from that One who sprang up from the ground with scars and words and enlightening power; a gift from the many who have followed in his footsteps and have trampled down death in his power and have been gathered to him in wonderful light and life.
The Lamb is the man with scars: The Man is now the Shepherd of his vast community that exists beyond their death. The throne is what he received for his crowning work – the breaking of death’s strong bands over you.
This great death and rising, this great assembly and singing is now, not only future.
That’s prayer. It is reliance, trust, natural conversation with a kind and loving heavenly Father, a generous, protective and self-giving older brother, and a wise friend whispering in your ear to help you through.
Ah but don’t we struggle to live in the confidence when it comes to God?
Luther anticipates the obvious question that comes from knowing ourselves and our personal struggles to pray; to trust, to rely on Jesus. Luther asks,
Despite the grave and the desperation, we sometimes feel, we live in the feast of the palms in this vast crowd. We wear the white baptismal robe drenched in his sacrificial blood by virtue of his grace and power and decision alone. We are his holy ones because he has made us his holy ones.
We still have to stand around graves and watch coffins with loved ones lowered, but the tenor of this is so very different than before. The Lamb, the throne, the multitude of people from everywhere and every type are with us.
They are the great cloud of witnesses urging us on to our risen end – not in the ground or behind the curtain but around the throne and the Lamb and the song.
The Lamb speaks as the coffin is lowered and the people feel death but are not overcome by it … This is who we are: Saints, holy ones in Jesus … And this is our now and our never ending;
This is our life in Jesus. The grave is not final! Life counts.
No wonder so many people in past days had the word ‘resurgam’ on their headstone, meaning, ‘I shall rise’.
We count because, as may appear on my gravestone:
Resurgemus: We shall rise