As Paul wraps up his second letter to Timothy, it is abundantly clear to him that his time on earth is short. Using imagery from other places in his writing, Paul stitches together beautiful prose as he prepares to journey toward the heavenly banquet:
I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4.6-8, NRSV).
Most of us won’t approach death in the same way Paul did. First of all, we won’t be imprisoned for our faith in Jesus Christ, and even if we were, the chances of such authorities allowing us to share the gospel via letter seem slim. Apart from the obvious circumstantial differences, there is the blatant fact that most of us try to ignore death and dying for as long as possible. Even as Christians, committed to the Kingdom of God and awaiting our eternal homes, more often than not, we choose to not think about death.
The Church, however, thinks about it often. In fact, The Episcopal Church even teaches about it in her Prayer Book, though, thanks to the fact that most of us, clergy included, don’t like to think about death, that teaching largely goes ignored. In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, there was a rubric at the end of the liturgy for the Visitation of the Sick that read, “The Minister is ordered, from time to time, to advise the People, whilst they are in health, to make Wills arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, and, when of ability, to leave Bequests for religious and charitable uses.” (p. 320)
Realizing that perhaps hiding that rubric after the action of Unction might make it too late, the authors of the 1979 BCP chose an even stranger place; hiding this rubric at the end of the service of Thanksgiving for a Child, “The Minister of the Congregation is directed to instruct the people, from time to time, about the duty of Christian parents to make prudent provision for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make will, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal good, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.” (p. 445)
As a member of a clergy who is beholden to this rubric and as a member of a family dealing with a sudden death with no will or life insurance policy to draw from, I’m using my blog this morning to implore you, dear reader, to not ignore death. If you do nothing else, please make a will. If you can afford a few bucks a month, get a life insurance policy that will at least cover burial costs ($10,000 is not unreasonable these days). Even better, preplan your funeral, either with a funeral home or your parish priest: make decisions about cremation, burial location, type of service, and any charitable donations you might wish to have made in your memory. It is, I promise you, the best gift you can give your family in their time of grief.