St. Luke 16: 19-31
June 14, 2020 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is an art to dying. The rich man died poorly and Lazarus died well. The rich man spent his days on earth enjoying his pleasures, apparently never considering the inevitable end. Thus when he found himself in Hell, he complained of being unfairly treated. He says that no one warned him. Lazarus, by contrast, spent his time on earth eager for death and preparing for it. Lazarus died well because he was prepared for it and did not cling to this world. The right way to live is in getting ready to die.
From Lazarus, and also from the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we ought to learn the art of dying. To die well, we need more than simply reminders and reflection on the transient character of life. We need those, to be sure, but the art of dying calls us to prepare for judgment by considering God’s promises in Christ and the place that He has prepared for us. We need to be ready to leave this world behind and to become eager for what God has promised.
You might respond that the repentant thief did not prepare and he died well. In a sense, you’d be right, in that he didn’t spend much time in preparation, but notice what the thief asked for. He did not ask for justice. He did not to be released from the horrors of punishment and given a second chance. He did not want to remain with his loved ones. He asked only that Jesus remember him in His Kingdom. His desire was not to try again and do it better, even to do good work. His desire was to follow Jesus to paradise. And with that, he died well.
That is what it means for us to die well. We know we’re going to die and we want to both live and die in the faith, confident in Christ’s forgiveness and eager to leave this world behind. To die well doesn’t mean to die without regret or to have nothing left to lose. Nor does it mean to die with an exaggerated sense of guilt for all our sins. To die well, as Lazarus died, as the repentant thief died, as Jesus died, is to be focused already now not so much on death, sins, and hell, but on Christ Himself. His death has paid the penalty for our sins. His resurrection declares those who believe in Him to be righteous. We are eager to follow HIm, ready to leave this world behind. We are ready to leave spouse, grandchildren, and motorcycles. There is nothing here, no matter how joyful or wonderful, worth staying for, nothing there that we will be denied or find ourselves missing.
The Holy Spirit inculcates this attitude and desire in us through His Word. The rich man would not listen to Moses and the prophets. He refused to live or die by faith. He insisted on miracles and proves. He thought his riches were proof of God’s love but He was wrong. He thought the point of life was to maximize pleasure, to seize the day, to live for the moment. In fact, the point of life is to trust in God and to wait on Him. The proof of God’s love is the Incarnation. God became a Man to be treated worse than Lazarus and to die and then to rise again.
We do not learn from miracles or from nature. We learn it from the Scriptures. There God speaks. By His Word, He creates and sustains faith, preparing us not just for death but also for life, real life, abundant life, everlasting life. That is the art of dying. May God in His mercy, teach us all this that we might follow not just Lazarus out of the grave but that we would follow Jesus out of the grave.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.