Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 25, 2008


What if you knew tomorrow would be your last day to live?


          Recently thousands of people have died suddenly. Vicious tornadoes claimed the lives of several persons in the United States. The death toll from a killer cyclone in Myanmar may reach 100,000. As many as ten thousand more died as victims of a powerful earthquake in China.

          Such news makes any normal person think, for at least a fleeting moment, about dying. Actually death is always on our minds, whether consciously or unconsciously. We know we are going to die. We simply do not know when. The reality of death lurks like a dark shadow in the vast corridors of our psyche.

          More than once in recent years younger pastors have invited me to preach “the one sermon you would preach if you knew it would be your last sermon.” Frankly that is a difficult assignment. And, at my age, I realize all the time that my next sermon may indeed be my last. The thought, of course, motivates me to do my best before my “stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.”

          A tender story is told about the remarkable Pope John XXIII who died in 1963 at age 81. His personal physician in tears broke the news to the pontiff that he would soon die. The Pope comforted his doctor and replied quietly, “Do not weep for me. My bags are packed and I am ready to go.”

          That story reminds me of the little girl in Norway who kept asking her mother when Jesus was coming back. Her mother wisely told her, “We don’t know when. It could be at any time.” To which the daughter replied, “Then Mother, it’s pretty important that we have our suitcase packed, isn’t it?”     

          The older some of us get, the more we read the daily obituary in the newspaper. We may laugh and say, “I just want to make sure my own obituary is not in the paper today.”  But even if we joke about it, we know that one day our name will be in the obits.

          For the moment I do not want to joke about dying or to be morbid about it. Rather I want to raise this question: Would I do anything differently if I knew that tomorrow would be my last day to live?

          Rolf Garborg tells in one of his books about the last days of his father’s life. The old man shared with his family one day that he had been dreaming a lot lately about being in heaven and seeing old friends who had died. He even remarked to his son that he really “longed to be with the Lord.”

          That night he enjoyed a bowl of ice cream, watched the evening news, and gave his wife a tender hug. He told her how much he loved her, breathed out a sigh, and died. Without a struggle or fanfare, he was gone. His sudden death underlines how quickly one’s life may end.

          Garborg writes tenderly of the tapestry of his father’s life. He speaks of each little word being a thread in the tapestry of one’s life. Each attitude we cultivate is a stitch in the tapestry we are weaving.  Slowly but surely the final pattern can become something beautiful as it did for the old man.

          The son pays tribute to his father for the special way he had learned to “bless” his family. With words of hope, encouragement and affirmation, he had for years practiced the “blessing” of his family. He refrained from condemnation. So positive and loving was his attitude that when he spoke, he was always blessing his family members. He had learned what some of us are slow to discover – that criticism hurts and seldom ever helps anyone.

          If I knew I had but one more day to live, I would try very hard to bless my loved ones with a positive, caring spirit like that of the old man. I would try, with words and deeds, to be a blessing. I would ask forgiveness for all the harsh, stupid, and unkind things I had ever said to them. And I would do my best to speak words of love and affirmation until my last breath.

          What would you do if you knew that tomorrow would be your last day to live? It is a good question to ponder. And no doubt we would live a more beautiful life if we lived each day as if we had but one more day to live.

          Live life to the fullest every day. Enjoy every moment. But remember it could end tomorrow. + + +