by Christopher Neuendorf
In the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, according to Luther’s Small Catechism, we pray for a “blessed end.” In other words, we’re asking God to help us die well. But how exactly do we die well, and thus enjoy a “blessed end”?
The main thing that makes our death blessed is faith in Jesus Christ. For those without such faith, death can never be blessed. It is sheer punishment, leading only to more punishment in the “second death” (Rev. 21:8), which is everlasting damnation. But with faith in Christ, death becomes our entry into paradise, where we await with all the saints the resurrection of our bodies on the last day.
Sometimes, though, our death can be blessed, not only for ourselves, but for others. Sometimes God grants us to die in such a way that we are able to make a final confession. We may die urging our loved ones to repentance and faith. We may die after having worked together with our pastor to prepare a funeral service that will glorify Christ and confess His holy name and all His promises to those in attendance. We may even die doing battle with the enemies of Christ, thus bringing comfort and consolation to His Church on earth.
Among the greatest examples of a “blessed end” is the martyrdom of John Esch and Henry Voes. These young men embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored by Martin Luther. They were imprisoned by the enemies of the Gospel and commanded to recant their Lutheran faith or face death by fire. Praise God, they chose a painful death for the sake of their confession! John and Henry were burned alive, but in their final moments they joyfully gave glory to God in Christ before their bodies succumbed to the flames. Word of their “blessed end” spread like wildfire, leading many others to be strengthened in their faith.
Even now, many in the Middle East are enjoying a “blessed end.” Rather than renounce Christ, they are choosing death by beheading. The eye of the body sees nothing but death, but when we behold these dear martyrs with the eye of faith, we see God’s holy angels coming to bear them to paradise. Whether we die as martyrs or not, God grant us a blessed end, that we may come safely through this vale of tears to our Father in heaven.
The Rev. Christopher J. Neuendorf is pastor of Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa.