Benediction Online

Saturday, November 02, 2013

All is Well

Medieval Christians took dying very seriously. Probably because death was all around them in an in-your-face kind of way that we can scarcely imagine. It was a time of wars, plagues and famines. Disease was rampant and people died in their homes, in the ditches, in the marketplaces in unpleasant and very public ways. So for them a holy death was as important as a holy life. In the 16th century the Ars Moriendi or art of dying provided a focus for Anglican spiritual writers such as Jeremy Taylor whose classic work Holy Living and Holy Dying is still published today.

Today is the feast of All Souls, celebrated in the Mexican tradition as the Day of the Dead and we are celebrating both All Saints and All Souls; holding together in tension the fact that our mortal bodies wear out and we die, at the same time as the knowledge that we are given eternal life and a future in paradise.

In the 16th century, Jeremy Taylor wrote
God gives us time, by succession, by parts and little periods. For it is very remarkable, that God who giveth plenteously to all creatures, he hath scattered the firmament with stars, as a man sows corn in his fields, in a multitude bigger than the capacities of human order; he hath made so much variety of creatures, and gives us great choice of meats and drinks, although any one of both kinds would have served our needs, and so in all instances of nature; yet in the distribution of our time God seems to be straighthanded, and gives it to us, not as nature gives us rivers, enough to drown us, but drop by drop, minute after minute, so that we never can have two minutes together, but he takes away one when he gives us another. This should teach us to value our time, since God so values it. and, by his so small distribution of it, tells us it is the most precious thing we have. Since, therefore, in the day of our death we can have still but the same little portion of this precious time, let us in every minute of our life, I mean in every discernible portion, lay up such a stock of reason and good works, that they may convey a value to the imperfect and shorter actions of our death-bed, while God rewards the piety of our lives by his gracious acceptation and benediction upon the actions preparatory to our death-bed.[1]

It’s very different language from ours but the message is simple: value the time you have and use it to live the holy life that God is calling you to.

I have a tendency to leave things to the last minute. This All Saints/All Souls combo is a reminder to me that we cannot leave our spiritual lives until tomorrow. Tomorrow may not come. Tomorrow we may need the spiritual practice that we have been putting off. We may need it in order to sustain our hope as everything we hold dear crumbles around us.

The literature that has developed around death and dying in recent years has challenged us to think about what we want to make of our lives and to do it now rather than wait because none of us knows how long we will live. Often the unspoken assumption is that death will come suddenly and swiftly. That happens, but my observation is that for most of us death comes slowly and inexorably and sometimes delays beyond our patience. It is rarely an easy process. Few of us will die quietly sitting in our armchairs watching our favorite football team.

Jeremy Taylor believed that we need to practice holy living so that we might experience holy dying and be resurrected to spend eternity with Christ in glory.  I would suggest that eternity will take care of itself; we need to be walking our talk today, here and now because when things get tough before we die we will need all the resources of character and all the spiritual fruits we can muster. Mary Oliver’s wonderful poem When Death Comes [2]reminds us to live to the fullest – “I don't want to end up simply having visited this world. But also in a way that gives us confidence. She writes,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

Meeting death with confidence comes from having developed such a close and loving relationship with our Creator that we know that all is well, today and everyday. Confidence comes from having walked a path of dependence upon God for so many days and years that when illness comes, even when death seems to tarry too long, we will know that all is well.

For the message of the gospel, the message of All Saints and All Souls is just that; all is well.


  • loved your sermon. thanks for introducing Taylor to me. I went and got his books.

    By Blogger Dennis, at 5:39 PM  

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