Some years ago, as I was roamin’ through Romans, these two verses
leaped off the page at me. As so often happens in my experience of God’s word,
it seemed as though some crafty editor had managed to insert them into my Bible
the previous night, the better to stun me the next day.
The more I pondered those brief sentences, the more convinced I
became that the core of Christian belief is wrapped up in these two verses.
They have remained a somewhat long-winded mantra for me ever since, so much
so that I had the citation chiseled into a family headstone.
An older New American Bible translation renders the latter
portion, “While we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die, we
die as his servants. Both in life and in death we are the Lord’s.” What a sense
of peace that provides!
All the pesky and, for the most part, petty problems that plague
me fall away in the face of the bigger picture. My life is not really mine.
I was specifically created by a loving God, provided with particular gifts and
turned loose on an unsuspecting world.
Return to Sender
My responsibility is to return those gifts well used when this
leg of the journey ends. If that’s a great comfort, it’s also a tremendous challenge.
It is my responsibility to “live for the Lord,” not just float through
life without direction or purpose. If I do, I will have no reason for anxiety
when it is time to “die for the Lord.” It will simply be time to retire from
the job here in order to move into the more fulfilling life I’ve been working
“Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” That has any other
retirement plan I’ve ever read about bested completely. Simply put, we belong
to God first, last and always. This God emerges from the pages of Scripture
as good beyond equal, kind beyond measure, loving beyond reason.
On the List
Every November, the Church focuses our attention on “whether
we live or die.” We honor all those saints who will never be canonized. Some
of them we know personally.
In our parish during November, we post beautifully lettered lists
on the inside back wall of the church. On those lists is the name of every person
who has died over the parish’s half-century history.
As a former pastor pointed out, it isn’t as though these people
were members of the parish; they are members of the parish. That’s
what the Communion of Saints is all about.
One day at Mass, it occurred to me that, at that very moment, someone
was being born and someone was dying.
We truly are just passing through, but it doesn’t much matter at
which stage of the process we find ourselves or our loved ones at any particular
time. “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
I can and should rise each morning I’m given and “live for the Lord,”
knowing that whether I live to turn out the light that night or wrap up my earthly
sojourn at some point during the day, I am the Lord’s. How is it possible to
aspire to more than that?