The best day of my life has nothing on the best day of my death.
When my oldest son, Harry, was three years old, he would often collapse on the couch just before bed-time and declare to my wife and I, ‘This was the best day ever.’ Usually that meant he was able to dedicate his day to swimming, Hot Wheels, Lightning McQueen, and/or ant stomping. The ‘best-ness’ was in direct proportion to the amount of fun things he could cram into a 12-hour day. And I agree, many of Harry’s days were filled with that kind of goodness.
I can think of a few truly remarkable days in my life. I once visited St. Andrews with my lovely wife on a rare sunny and calm day on the Scottish coast. Walked a few holes, visited the castle ruins, and had a grin from ear-to-ear. On another, I sat in a duck blind in north Idaho with my Dad and two brothers while flight after flight of mallards/wigeon/teal came cuppin’ into our dekes. Or, maybe this one: the day my wife and I visited Old Jerusalem, absorbing the sights and sounds of an ancient world still dancing with life.
Some of you might be worried that I didn’t choose my wedding day or the birth of my children. Alas, the former was meaningful and memorable, but it also forced me to wear a tux for 8 hours … and dance. In public. The latter was essentially 10-17 hours of pure helpless terror where I had to endure watching my wife do something that would make most men shrivel. No, these weren’t my favorite days by any means. I love the marriage more than the wedding; I love the kids more than the birth.
While I earnestly wait for my next show-stopping day, I’m forced to consider my days in the Christian sense. Are my days getting better? Does my Christian faith open new ways to experience a better form of living?
Lutherans aren’t particularly good at sanctification. We generally profess that good works flow out of response to declaration of righteousness found in justification. The life, death, and life of Jesus brands us with a new identity—saint—which then informs how we live in the world moving forward. And while there certainly is Lutheran support for the concept of Christian obedience, such talk is often pushed to the back of the room so that we can give Justification and Grace the lion’s share of the floor time.
What is the life of the Christian? In sum, It is a response to God’s grace. The Christian life is a living out of the identity secured on the cross and in the empty tomb.
Wow. That seems easy.
So sanctification—this life after the cross—implies (at least many people think so) some sort of ongoing perfecting of the person. We are being made holier through life in the Spirit day by day. Perhaps we can expect more ‘best days’ in our future than in our past … at least from the perspective of spiritual growth. Others consider this a ninja move toward pietism. They might argue that this is a hidden drive to perform good works in order to win God’s approval.
I’m not interested in the theological battle on this point, quite honestly. I earnestly believe in the promises of God found in baptism; we have the Holy Spirit within us and, without question, it is working in the hearts and lives of the believer’s soul. I’m compelled to conclude that we are constantly experiencing the Spirit’s work of regeneration in our lives—sold as a slave to sin no more—destined for the furthering of God’s glory. However, I’m well aware that my sin never quite leaves the building. In fact, I find myself being ever seduced by the beauty and meaning of the cross as I grow in Christian maturity. The sanctification of a Christian is not a move past the cross into something beyond; it is, as Tullian Tchidivijian once remarked, a call that draws us more deeply into the cross. Call it the Spiderman Theorem on Justification: With greater spiritual maturity comes greater awareness of my need for the cross.
I suppose everyone has a few ‘best days ever.’ But I think it’s a mistake to assume we’ll have a steady stream of good days going forward, post-baptism, if by ‘good’ I mean the ongoing feeling of being right with the world. If, however, ‘good’ is defined by our Spirit-led ability to fulfill the good works which Christ prepared in advanced for us to do, then we’re really on to something. Even if I’m fortunate enough to live a full set of days with clear eyes and full hearts (hat-tip, Coach Taylor and Tammy), these good–even great–days still have nothing on the best day of my death.
Not death as in the moment of my death. Death as in the state of rest in which I wait, from the ceasing of my cellular function to the time in which God calls me out of that mysterious rest into new, embodied life at the end of time. We have life. We have death. Then we have new life. I’m talking about that general second state. The best days of that first life may be filled with joy and warmth, perhaps in the glow of relationships when they were at their most peaceful or stable states. Yet this cannot compare to the all-surpassing greatness of the best day in death, because the best day in death is when it’s over for all-time.
While the worst day of my life might be the day I die, I can also say with certainty that the best day of my death will be the day I return to life.
I often imagine the second-coming of Christ. There are some days when I envision it as the return of Jesus in all of his terrible authority, coming to judge the living and the dead, Apostle’s (or Apollo) Creed style. Other times, I see it as a glorious drawing of the God’s people to the throne as it descends to a physical world crying out for its own redemption, where all of the saints (living and newly-living-again) get caught up in a spine-tingling song of praise that pours out with the words, ‘He is worthy! Worthy is the Lamb!’
“While the worst day of my life might be the day I die, I can also say with certainty that the best day of my death will be the day I return to life.“
Lately, I’ve just been thinking about this kind of eschatological reality: The best day of my death will be my first-hand account of how God fulfilled every one of his promises. I will be a witness to the fact that God no longer requires faith—his realness to us becomes axiomatically true. His Word is fulfilled. The glory has come to rest on all of creation, and He will make his reign manifest in a kingdom of joy, grace, peace, and truth. The best day of my death will be the confirmation of all Christian hope—in fact, the hope of all things, including the physical universe—properly placed in the person of Jesus Christ. And he is worthy.
For those of you movie buffs who remember the classic, Flatliners, you probably remember Keifer Sutherland’s famous quote at the beginning of the flick: “Today is a good day to die.” I won’t go that far. Death, after all, is the final enemy. But … when I’m dead (or, more precisely, when I’m resting in Christ awaiting the resurrection of the dead), I’ll celebrate with the force of a thousand angels when I hear these words flowing from the throne: “Today is a good day for the dead to live again.” And by his command, my second un-die-able body returns to live beside the Life.
I want more good days in my future but should God take my life tonight, I know that nothing will compare to the day when I am raised to see the fulfillment of all history, all theology, all everything at the end of time. I simply can’t wait to live after I die.
© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.