Thursday, March 26, 2009

On dying in the faith

Last night, I was surveying the rest of the collection of Luther's theological writings. On page 638 starts a "Sermon on Preparing to Die". The introduction says that a quite pushy person ("importunate" is what the intro says), Mark Schart (poor man, that's how he is remembered now), pestered Luther, when he was really busy,
to write something to help him deal with his fear of death.

Luther deals with practical concerns, with making peace with your neighbors, with making a "sincere confession" (of sins), of partaking of the sacrament and believing firmly in the word of God, as well as the communion of saints.

In the hour of his death no Christian should doubt that he is not alone. He can be certain, as the sacraments point out, that a great many eyes are upon him: first, the eyes of God and of Christ himself, for the Christian believes his words and clings to his sacraments; then also, the eyes of the dear angels, of the saints, and of all Christians. There is no doubt, as the Sacrament of the Altar indicates, that all of these in a body run to him as one of their own, help him overcome sin, death, and hell, and bear all things with him. In that hour the work of love and the communion of saints are seriously and mightily active. A Christian must see this for himself and have no doubt regarding it, for then he will be bold in death. He who doubts this does not believe in the most venerable Sacrament of the Body of Christ, in which are pointed out, promised, and pledged the communion, help, love, comfort, and support of all the saints in all times of need. If you believe in the signs and words of God, his eyes rest upon you, as he says in Psalm 32:8, my eyes will constantly be upon you lest you perish.

I think this not being alone is very important for the dying person. Just your faith and you is not enough. You need the support of the community and the external word and sacrament. If there is nobody with you there are the eyes of God, the angels and the departed saints.

When my father was dying, he was completely rational when the morphine was not putting him to sleep. Not everything was really well in the extended family. It was a source of tribulation to the end. But we were there and we could pray the Lord's prayer and sing to him all the old hymns.

This brings us to the part that we cannot trust in our own faith, but even pray the Spirit for it.

...God has enjoined us firmly to believe in the fulfillment of our prayer (Mark 11:24) and that it is truly an Amen. We must also bring this command of God to his attention and say, "My God you have commanded mt to pray and to believe that my prayer will be heard. For this reason I come to you in prayer and am assured that you will not forsake me but will grant me a genuine faith."

Moreover, we should implore God and his dear saints our whole life long for true faith int he last hour, as we sing so very fittingly on the day of Pentecost, "Now let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the true faith of all things the most, that in our last moments he may befriend us, and as home we go, he may tend us."

This above quoted song comes to me readily in German, though I can't recall when I've last sung it: "Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist, um den rechten Glauben allermeist, dass er uns behuete an unserem Ende, wenn wir heimfahren aus diesem Elende, Kyrieleis." (13th century). It has the neatest rhythmic medieval melody. I'd love to sing it to you, if you were here. And so we should always implore the Holy Spirit.

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

Amen, Brigitte!

I needed that reminder!