The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
Yesterday we buried a good friend of this mission. Ed Strange was really a joy to know and a man who served tirelessly to help the Church. He spearheaded the replacement of all of the sanctuary lighting as well as all of the new wiring during our remodel just a few months ago. He helped us with his prayers as well.
The words of the Lord in today’s gospel fit very well with Ed “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
Some of you did not know Ed at all. Many of you did not know that Ed was a pastor for many years before becoming an Orthodox Christian. One of the things that I appreciated about Ed was that he was very direct and to the point when he was communicating with others and especially with those that he loved. I was very blessed to have had the chance to sit with him on Tuesday afternoon. We shared some really good words together. Ed was full of wisdom and holiness.
The Lord gave up His life freely so that He might impart life to those whom He loved, those who were under the curse of sin, which is death. And Death takes on a new meaning and reality when it is undertaken by those who love God. It is transformed and bears unexpected fruit. Yesterday, as we finished the funeral services for Ed, I decided that there were things about his last week with us that he would want me to share with you because he was a pastor all of those years and remained a pastor at heart and he would want you to hear these things.
First, when you are in the hospital, especially when you are really sick, either you or your family should inform a priest as soon as possible. I was notified about Ed’s change in condition on Monday night. He was unconscious and passed away on Wednesday. So don’t take that time for granted. Ed took nothing for granted.
This brings me to my second point: Confess your sins before you depart from this life.
I once visited a parishioner who had been sick and was clearly near the end of her life. I asked her if she wanted to confess anything. She looked at me and replied “No”. I had known the woman for years and had never heard her confession so this was not the answer I expected. Nevertheless, I let her be.
On Tuesday morning, Ed was visited by Fr. Nicholas and he gave his final confession. He cleared the air between him and His Lord. He didn’t approach life with arrogance and say “What do I need to confess for? I was a pastor and served God all of these years and He knows my heart.” He made sure that his garments were white as snow and ready for the banquet.
If it is at all possible, you should be clear headed and have time to give a confession sometime during your last days of earthly life. While that is not always possible, we can at least make sure that we’ve confessed regularly throughout the year. The medical staff wants to do a great job with their work and part of that is pain management and keeping the patient comfortable. But the family of the Orthodox Christian should make every effort to find a way to allow their loved one to have time to say their final confession and receive communion and pray before they depart this life, even if that means a small amount of discomfort. Ed was not comfortable on Tuesday, but he was at peace.
Third, spend your days practicing the art of denying yourself and you will be ready to receive all that God has to offer you after this life.
Sometimes we visit people on their deathbeds who want to talk about anything but their passing. They want to talk about the weather and their favorite pasta recipes and the Chicago cubs etc. Others beg for more time to live. They are so attached to this life that they cannot imagine that it will end. They beg for healing and for more days. Yet others spend their time blaming God for all of their sickness and misfortunes.
Ed was different. He had spent many years serving God and practicing the art of denying himself, and he was seriously ready to leave this world. His understanding was illumined. He knew that life wasn’t ending, it was just about to get started.
He had spent all of those year praying and worshiping during the liturgy. He had spent all of those years receiving the body and blood of Christ and now he was not going to let fear or attachment to worldly things steal away the joy that he had worked so hard to obtain. Now he was going to enter into life with Christ more fully. He didn’t wait weeks or days. He was ready and the Lord accepted him in a flash.
We pray for a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless and peaceful. Let us spend our days denying ourselves and taking up the cross. Directing every thought to Christ the Lord who alone is the master of our whole life, and He will truly become our resurrection and our life.
To Him alone be the Glory, together with His Father and the life giving Spirit AMEN.