Life is beautiful and wondrous. It also is finite and brief. Both these truths have struck me forcefully and repeatedly since I arrived in Juneau last summer to take the position as senior pastor of Chapel by the Lake.
We live in a breath-taking landscape. Indeed, even as I write these words I am looking out my office window mesmerized by the reflection of snow-capped mountains on the glass-like surface of Auke Lake. The sky is intensely blue with hardly a cloud. It's clear as bell, which is, as I have discovered in my short time here, a minor miracle for October. The fog and misty shrouds that blanketed the mountain sides this morning are a far cry from the harsh, urban Phoenix, Ariz., landscape I lived in before we moved to Southeast Alaska.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, this place makes it easy for me to affirm the poet's words in the Hebrew scriptures when he wrote, "the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19). We live in an enchanted land.
The truth of this place's beauty does not shield us from another truth: life's finitude and brevity. In the year that I have lived here I have been closely associated with several folks, and aware of others, who have suffered profound loss through the death of people close to them. And most of those who have passed on were far too young to have died. Their deaths were sudden, unexpected, and premature. I have not been in Juneau long enough to know if this is a familiar pattern in our community; however, I do know that the passing of friends and family members saddens us and damages our common life. Life is a fragile gift not to be taken lightly.
As a Christian pastor I serve a community that believes passionately and confidently in life beyond physical death. For all its internal differences the church of Jesus Christ uniformly affirms that physical death is merely a door through which we pass as we enter into an eternal, timeless reality. Christians believe that those who embrace Jesus Christ will live eternal lives characterized by joy, contentment, abundance, and free of all pain and hardship. Christian people, like everyone else, shed deep tears of sorrow when death takes loved ones. Still, at the end of the day a profound conviction sustains them that there is a reality - a true existence - on the other side of death that is indescribably more beautiful than anything we know in this world.
The grandeur of God's natural world in the environs of Juneau proclaims the truth that life is beautiful and wondrous. The splendor of the environment also reminds me that the other great truth, which has intruded into our community far too frequently this past year - that life is finite and brief, is not the ultimate truth. The exquisite beauty of this place affirms, at least to me, God's promise that those who look to Christ will experience a magnificent way of living that transcends death and even the beauty of this incredible land.
For our community, which has walked and is walking through some very dark valleys, this is good news. May you know God's grace and peace.
The Rev. Douglas M. Dye is senior pastor at Chapel by the Lake.
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