Mortality. I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot, lately. Two cousins, an online friend I’ve never met, my aunt, and my father—all are battling cancer, and for some of them, it’s not the first bout. They’re experiencing pain from the disease, and from the surgeries to treat the cancer. The outcomes are by no means sure. It was so difficult to see my father, always so gentle, dependable, healthy and strong, in pain in the hospital bed. He's recovered from that cancer, but another, less virulent lurks inside him, and it's being treated.
Immortality. Some of my Christian friends believe that their family members and friends who have passed away are already in heaven, basking in the light and love of Jesus. Others believe their loved ones are sleeping in the grave until the Second Coming, and their next thought and sight is of their resurrected and living Lord. Some believe that this life is all we have, and there's no other existence. Some say that the spirit never dies, but hovers around the people and places it knew in life. (I prefer the biblical explanations.)
Friends say that they feel the presence or watch-care of their departed family members, and are comforted by the peace that passes understanding. And I can understand that, having had a similar feeling—but I think it’s because my mother is present in my DNA and in the training she gave me. The legacy that she left is who I’ve become and what influence I can provide to others. Mom taught me many of the creative arts, including music, literature and writing, visual art, and graphic design. Although my children are the furry, four-footed variety, I have the privilege of teaching hundreds of students over many years, about the pursuit of excellence that I received from my mother.
I played the organ and piano for the memorial service to Fred Black, a member of my church. I’d met him once or twice, and seven years ago, he called me at work to tell me that his uncle wrote the hymn, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” He was a nice old guy, but I didn’t know him well. That’s my loss, as I discovered when his many friends and family members told anecdotes about the legacy of love, service, and excellence that Mr. Black left. But Mr. Black lives on through his descendants, the people he worked with, those he taught and fellowshipped with, and those he blessed as if he were serving Jesus Himself. Mr. Black will live again—forever.
My uncle and aunt were a minister couple in Wisconsin (he a pastor, she a nurse), and not only did they adopt children to their family, but were involved in “green” endeavors in their community, being politically active, building homes for Habitat For Humanity, and ministering to their fellow retirees when they “snow-birded” in Arizona each winter. They died within a year of each other, with grace and dignity, surrounded by their children and many grandchildren.
That is an amazing legacy. But a legacy doesn’t end. A legacy lives on in one form or many, for eternity. Sometimes, the legacy is property left in a will or trust, or the worn heirlooms that remind us of the hopes and dreams that have gone before us; but the legacy that’s remembered is the gift of the experience: the life well-lived, the teaching or discipline imparted, the marked-up family Bible with answers to prayer noted in the margins, the encouragement to keep on trying to your utmost in both failure and success.
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, meant to build up Christian believers and multiply their numbers. Among the gifts were teaching, discernment, wisdom, healing, prophecy, languages, and others. But then Paul said we should earnestly desire the greatest gift of all: loving people the way God loves them. That is where the love of 1 Corinthians 13 comes from—it’s a gift from God. It’s not something we can “develop” or progress to. We can only receive a gift.
God has multiplied the gifts of the Spirit far beyond our wildest imaginings. Far into eternity. And we have forever to meet and greet our brothers and sisters, those who have gone before us, and those who will come after us. It will be the fulfillment of a legacy that began at the cross and continues today.
We often think of great historical figures or biblical heroes (Abraham, Moses, Solomon, the prophets and apostles, the saints who've gone before us), when we read in Hebrews 12:1-3 :
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
What if, for future generations, we are among the great cloud of witnesses? What if we're rubbing elbows with those greats of Hebrews 11, the faith chapter? What legacy have we left behind for future generations? What sort of life are we living right now? The legacy may be invisible to us, and when we learn of it in heaven, we will be shocked at the seeming insignificance to us, and the great import to them. Something we do or something we leave behind can be an inspiration so that others will not grow weary or lose heart in their journey.
It puts mortality and immortality in a different light!