In the Southern Highlands near us is a tiny, 100 year old, stone church. It was built by the local farmers when there was a small but loyal population of people who wanted a place to worship. From all denominations of the Christian belief, they clubbed together and their wonderful sandstone building still looks fresh and cared for.
Part of the attraction is the small graveyard. The early settler families have their burial plots here. Some with magnificent headstones from a bygone era. Many now have a simple, large local stone with an embedded brass plate where their body or ashes lie.
As someone who has conducted many burial services I am still puzzled even as the inevitable day draws nearer – as to what it must be like to die. I know that I cannot escape or avoid this final act of being human. I know that at some stage this body I have inhabited will lie, lifeless in a wooden box with nothing of my earthly treasures to offset whatever has taken place as my last breath is drawn.
My wife has been a chaplain at a hospice for some years and has witnessed many moments of death in her work. She has a considerable bank of stories where the person dying seemingly sees someone they know welcoming them into another place. The skeptics say that this phenomenon is a lack of oxygen to the brain and that it is all imagination or illusion. But whatever the truth of the matter, death is still the only game in town for us all.
Which is why the parable teller’s disciples asked him often about “being saved”. I’m not sure that they had the same definition as the televangeists. When they ask about how many will be saved on one occasion , Jesus replies in a curious fashion. He tells them to “strive to enter by the narrow door, because many will seek to enter and will not be able.” Is he creating some sort of exclusive club with sideways entry and secret passwords?
His following words give us a clue. Some will expect to enter on the basis that they shared a meal with him, or that they heard him speak. He says that this is hardly a qualification. What he seems to indicate is that “being saved” is a matter of what I would call the six foot box admission ticket. It is to acknowledge that death is inevitable and to live life in the same framework as he did.
To love God and to love your neighbor as you love yourself, is often to consign to that long narrow box our selfish ambitions and to see the world and our eternal future in the light of the one who did the same. In the entry to this understanding, is the narrow doorway to a wide and unexpected vista of fulfillment and amazement.
All of the societal and relational pyramid climbing in which we indulge with its masks, pretentions and petty conceits takes us nowhere except that lifeless locust shell in the box others lower into the ground. The acceptance of the narrow door experience now is to book a seat at the coming kingdom where in the words of Jesus, “some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” A place where rank and privilege do not matter at all.
Go figure- it’s outside the box.