From the Letter to the Romans:
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Romans 14:7-8 (NRSV) – July 22, 2014)
The Book of Common Prayer (1979) lifts these verses and, together with others, uses them in the anthem with which the Burial Office (Rite Two) begins:
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.
Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.
The first paragraph is from Jesus’ conversation with Martha of Bethany when she met him on the road when he came following her brother Lazarus’s death. (John 11:25-26) The second is from Job; it is part of Job’s reply to Bildad the Shuhite. (Job 19:25-27) The conclusion is from Revelation; John of Patmos is told to write this after seeing the “one hundred forty-four thousand” elect and as the angels of God harvest what Julia Ward Howe called “the grapes of wrath.” (Rev. 14:13)
The 1928 Prayer Book had a similar but rather more resigned opening anthem compiled from Scripture, the first two paragraphs being the same, but a third concluding paragraph was taken from 1 Timothy 6:7 and Job 1:21. Where the newer anthem presents the hope of eternal rest, the older feels like a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh of “Oh well, it’s over – it was fun while it lasted.” I’m sure that’s not the original intent of the drafters, but that’s my reaction to it:
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.
I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Although the newer anthem is more positive and comforting in my opinion, the theological import of the two is the same; life ends and at its end, there is God.
Both represent a liturgical model of what I find most attractive about the Anglican approach to Scripture. They are theological statements constructed from a holistic understanding of the Bible. They draw from multiple sources within the holy text, from both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, to fashion a statement which succinctly, but memorably summarizes the Christian hope.
Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. At the end, there is God.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.