Dying Well

"Those who face death experience the living presence of God through
the living presence of the community that cherishes and mourns them."

— Amy Plantinga Pauw

Death is a frightening prospect, for the specter of death destroys any illusion that we are in full control of our lives. How is it, then, that some people are able to die with the assurance that death is not the final word? In the Christian practice of dying well, Christian people do things with and for one another in response to God's strong love, translating into concrete acts our belief in the resurrection of Christ, and of ourselves. Dying well embraces both lament and hope, and both a sense of divine judgment and an awareness of divine mercy.

Wisdom and Care for Our Time
Even in death, we are not alone. Christian worship demonstrates this through its weekly celebration of resurrection, annual remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection, funerals, singing, anointing, and care for the bereaved. Yet Christians harbor confidence that God is actively working against the powers of death in all creation. How does your congregation nurture resistance to the powers of death in this world?

How does the "rescue credo" of modern medicine interfere with our chances of dying well? What kinds of hope can we offer the dying, besides that of elusive and high-risk physical cures? How does such hope give us courage to admit the limits of today's medical care?

What do hospitals and funeral homes do to shape the contemporary experience of death? What hospital rules and burial laws or customs complicate our efforts to assist one another in dying well?

Lament and Hope
While death does not separate us from God, death does evoke despair and anger. What do psalms of lament (for example, Psalms 6, 22, 42, 69, 77) teach us about exposing emotions, rather than hiding them?

Christian practices provide no formula for transforming premature, tragic, or unjust deaths into good deaths. When is it most difficult to find redemptive significance in a "bad death"? What are ways the church can convey that one's life continues to matter to the community, no matter what kind of death?

In the life of Christian Faith, lament is joined with hope. How does Jesus' conversation with Mary and Martha (John 11:17-27) point up this paradox?

As followers of Jesus, we cannot save death and dying for the end of our lives. Paul writes that our baptism involves us in dying with Christ (Romans 6:3-5). How does living with this awareness prepare us for the dying of our bodies?

Judgment and Mercy
Many people near death with a sense of needing forgiveness. Do you know of any times when words of confession or forgiveness at the end of a life led to reconciliation with others or greater trust in God?

No one can count on dying well in a biological sense. Yet some Christians radiate faith and love even when their bodies are failing. Caregivers can radiate such faith and love as well, communicating merciful presence of God in another way through their loving care for the body of one who is dying. Do you know anyone whose death has inspired those around him or her? Do you know anyone who has faithfully cared for someone through a prolonged period of dying?

In Life and in Death, We Are God's
A serene death is not a test for proving spiritual maturity, and a difficult death is no indication that faith is lacking. When a death is long and difficult, how can others claim God's promises on behalf of the dying? How does cherishing and mourning a person who has died in turn prepare members of the community for the death eventually coming to them?

Like those being baptized into Christian faith, those who are dying draw strength from the faith of the entire community. How can the ways in which we remember deceased members of our communities prepare us for our own deaths?

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For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

— Romans 8:38-39

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again. So that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

— Romans 14:7-9

© 2006-2011 The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith