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DYING GRACE

Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever.
Hebrews 9:27-28, The Message

What do you think happens when people die? What do you think happens in those weighty last moments before the pulse gives up, breathing stops, and monitor flatlines? George Bernard Shaw rightly reminds that the statistics on death are quite impressive – one of out one people die.

What happens when we die is a question I have long thought about, beginning with watching a loved one die. Then as a pastor and chaplain I have been with literally hundreds of people in their last hours and moments. When I was a young seminarian working part time in a university hospital, a surgeon told me about end-of-life rallying. He told of many times he had seen sudden mental clarity and memory in those hours just before death. He said that he thought that it was the “grace of God” in final moments wanting to ready people to meet Him.

Then, as a hospice chaplain I frequently saw patients experience what specialists call “terminal lucidity”, “pre-mortem surge”, and “the rally before the crash”. There is great mystery around this, but everyone I know who works in palliative care and hospice has a story to tell. Daily I felt that I was standing on holy ground, where eternity intersected time, as God was sending His angels to gather people to Him (Matthew 24:31; Luke 16:22).

This is why I was so interested this last week to read yet another study of “terminal lucidity” and grace granted to people in there final moments. It was a comprehensive, multi-year study by Dr. Sam Parnia, an intensive care physician and Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University. He is known for his research on near-death experiences and cardio pulmonary resuscitation. Dr. Parnia led a team of researchers who observed 567 patients in 25 hospitals around the world as they underwent CPR (cardiopulminary resuscitation) after suffering cardiac arrest; most of these patients died. From their study of EEG (electroencephalogram) brain signals of dying patients, they report “heightened consciousness and sense of awareness” while undergoing CPR. Researchers concluded from their study that the moment of dying:

“…appears to facilitate lucid understanding of new dimensions of reality – including people’s deeper consciousness – all memories, thoughts, intentions and actions towards others from a moral and ethical perspective…They have an inner experience and their consciousness is not only there but it’s heightened to a level that they’ve never experienced before. Their thoughts become shaper than usual, and clearer than usual.”

(New York University Langone Health Center website)

Today’s scripture reminds that “Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences.”  Today, I share my thoughts and experiences not to encourage people to put off eternal business until the last, uncertain moment: just the opposite! I am encouraging all of us today to have our own ‘pre-mortem surge’ and to take care of any unfinished business with God and/or with people. Or, as we would say in hospice: “So live your life, that when it comes time to die, all you have to do is, die!”

God isn’t through with you or with me, or with our loved ones! To the last moment of life, God is reaching out!

A fellow traveler,
Tim

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