The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'I am at peace'

Reflections on dying in the faith

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through theresurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead ...” (1 Peter 1:3).

In December I got a call that my 95-year-old aunt, Elizabeth (Betty) Branstad Burtness, was suddenly very ill. The woman who for 60 years had been for me and so many others a model of the Christian life was beginning her final baptismal vocation—dying in the faith. She was told she had a few days to live.

What could be more meaningful than accompanying this woman of faith through the valley of death? I share these reflections of that journey, hoping they might help each of us as we face our death and as we accompany others.

I recall ELCA theologian Gordon Lathrop’s words in The Pastor: A Spirituality: “The Christian confidence in the face of death, the confidence repeatedly rehearsed in the liturgy, is entirely based on confidence in the Triune God, on the narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as pulling us and our stories into the mercy of God. … Patterns we learn through our lives do become patterns that also mark our deaths … we cannot promise ourselves a ‘good death.’ We may indeed be alone and afraid, struggling and angry. Honesty about this possibility is also important. Only God is our hope, not the excellence of our preparations for death.” (Fortress, 2006; page 128).

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