Today marks the death date of my first wife, Ann Elizabeth, just a little bit short of her 31st birthday, and just 10 days after our 10th wedding anniversary. She was a beautiful, smart, talented (painting, music), young mother. She and I had been high school sweet hearts, so we had dated for a total of 6 years before we finally married. By the time we married, she had finished her college degree (her mother insisted on that, because she thought I could not be relied upon to support her daughter), while I still had one more year to go on an undergraduate degree. We delayed starting a family until I was almost through graduate school, at which point we had a baby daughter, Ann-Marie. She was a good mother, a faithful wife, and a wonderful helpmate to me, her husband. She was a truly devout Christian soul who loved the Lord Jesus Christ and believed on Him wholeheartedly.
It was after the birth of our daughter that her disease really manifested itself in full force, and the long decline began. She was diagnosed with Lupus Erythematosis, a strange disease which was fairly little known at that time (1960s). Treatment was begun, but in retrospect it was probably too little, based on what is now known. The disease attacked particularly her kidneys, and she eventually lost all kidney function. This was before the days of readily available dialysis in every town, and Ann died as a result of an accident in home dialysis.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we remember this day before thee thy faithful servant Ann Elizabeth, gone these forty years, and we pray that having opened unto her the gates of a larger life, thou wilt receiver her more and more into thy joyful service; that she may win, with thee and thy servants everywhere, the eternal victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I am thankful that I continue to have Ann with me every day of my life. I want to continue to honor the pledges that I made to her in the way that I live my life here below that may join her, and all the saints, in heaven above with our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Consider A Reading from the Book of Wisdom,
Beginning at the 21st verse of the 2nd Chapter …
This is the way they reason, but they are misled, 21
their malice makes them blind.
They do not know the hidden things of God, 22
they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded,
they can see no reward for blameless souls.
Yet God did make man imperishable, 23
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world, 24
as those who are his partners will discover.
3 But the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, 1
no torment shall ever touch them.
In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, 2
their going looked like a disaster,
their leaving us, like annihilation; 3
but they are at peace.
If they experienced punishment as men see it, 4
their hope was rich in immortality;
slight was their affliction, great will their blessings be. 5
God has put them to the test
and proved them worthy to be with him; 6
he has tested them like gold in a furnace,
and accepted them as a holocaust.
When the time comes for his visitation they will shine out; 7
as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.
They shall judge nations, rule over peoples, 8
and the Lord will be their king for ever.
They who trust in him will understand the truth, 9
those who are faithful will live with him in love;
for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.
But the godless will be duly punished for their reasoning, 10
for neglecting the virtuous man and deserting the Lord.
Yes, wretched are they who scorn wisdom and discipline: 11
their hope is void,
their toil unavailing,
their achievements unprofitable;
their wives are reckless, 12
their children are depraved,
their descendants are accursed.
A Reflection on this Reading from the Book of Wisdom
It deals with one of the problems we face every day, the problem of the death of those near to us. It also speaks to our wavering sense of how we should live our lives, either to try to maintain a virtuous life or to give in to temptation and live a worldly life. Consider what it says.
First, in 2:23, we are reminded that man is made in the image of God and that it was only through the devil that death was brought into the world. This ties right into the next statement in 3:1 that the souls of the virtuous remain in the hands of God who made them, and while they remain there, no torment will touch them. We are made in God’s image, and those who remain faithful to the Lord are held close to him and are not subject to any sort of tortures. What a crucial reminder!
Then the passage goes on to describe how things look to those who observe the death of the faithful. To modern, unbelieving man, they appear to be obliterated or destroyed, but that is simply because the worldly man does not understand, refuses to understand. The modern man is so sure that this life is all that there is, and that death is the end. With that “certainty,” death does look annihilation, the complete end of the person. The writer of Wisdom sees with the eyes of faith and tells us what we know as Christians. Rather than being destroyed, they continue to exist and are at peace, and that is what is so very important. They have passed beyond all trouble, all pain, all suffering and trial. What the worldly fail to understand, thinking it the complete end of the person, is in fact the total victory in peace for the virtuous.
The earthly trials that the virtuous man endured may have looked like punishment to the worldly, but it was really the preparation for an eternity with God. Having been purified by these difficulties like gold is purified in the refiner’s furnace, they are accepted as a sacrifice by the Lord. Those who trust the Lord will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love. As Christians, we have to understand this passage in terms of trusting in Jesus Christ for our salvation, not that we are redeemed by our own sacrifice.
Those who choose not to follow the ways of God are doomed to an unhappy end. The things predicted for them are truly terrible. “Their hope is void” – what an awful thing to say about someone, and yet that is exactly what they have taken upon themselves when the have rejected the Lord. “Their toil is unavailing”– there is no real satisfaction in work when it is done for the wrong reasons, and this ties right into the next one, “their achievements are unprofitable.” Finally, their families are cursed, their wives, their children, and all their descendants.
This is a book of the Old Testament period, and yet it sounds rather like the New Testament in many respects, particularly in what sounds like a promise of the resurrection at the end of time in verses 3:7–9. It was probably not intended in that manner for the original readers, but it is easy for us, as New Testament Christians, to put that sort of construction on it. This is a powerful message of comfort and encouragement to Christians, especially in the time when other Christians have recently died.