The Ultimate Church-Shopping Question Considered

I’m really looking forward to a Mortification of Spin interview we will be doing with Todd Billings on his upcoming book, Rejoicing in Lament. Todd has been diagnosed with a rare, terminal cancer at the age of 39, and his book explores how living in his condition relates “to the abundant life that we enjoy in Christ.”
While I was listening to the part of our discussion on today’s podcast about what Christians are to look for in a pastor, I remembered a great question I had just read in Billings' book. In his chapter on “Death in the Story of God and in the Church,” he shares a reflection he had while teaching a Sunday school class on lament, promise, and the life of Christ, from the perspective of his experience with cancer.  
In speaking to members of my congregation on this topic, it forced a level of honesty that I found striking: this is
 a place where funerals take place on a regular basis; in this room are cancer survivors who have gone through chemo; and there are others who have lost spouses and other loved ones to cancer and other disease and tragedy. The congregation is the only place (that
 I can think of!) in Western culture where we develop relationships, celebrate our faith and life together, and also extend those same relationships all the way through death and dying. A place of employment, a hospice—they have indispensable roles, but in neither is a community life that celebrates the birth of babies and the growth of young and old and extends these same relationships all the way to death. It’s a gift, really. It’s a marvelous gift that the church who baptizes and celebrates new life in Christ also does funerals, mourns with the dying, and celebrates the promise of resurrection in Christ. For some young people, the church is one of the only places that they are exposed to death in a real, personal way—where someone they knew has died. And I think that is a gift of the church. I would go so far as to say that a top recommended question from me for “church shoppers” might be this: who would you like to bury you? Think about that one for a while! (101)
I have been thinking about that one for a while. On several occasions Carl and Todd have emphasized the duty of the pastor to include preparing their congregants for death. The church is a gift in both celebrating life and in facing death. We embrace our confession of hope together. As a creation of God’s Word, we know that death is not the end, but look forward to our resurrection in Christ. 
However, we also live as we are called as theologians of the cross. As we follow our Savior, we can be angry at death. We can express our deep lamentation that things are not as they should be because we know our God and we know that he is good. We don’t hope in good feelings but in an eternal life of holiness before the Lord. Our ultimate expectation isn’t in a better world here, but in a new heavens and a new earth. 
Reading these words from Billings also reminded me of a sermon Paul Wolfe preached. Pastor Wolfe urged us saying, “The gospel makes us recognize the size of the gulf between the way things are and the way they are supposed to be.” He defined groaning as “the sound at the intersection between pain and hope.” That’s who I want to bury me, someone who is intimate with that sound.
We are ambassadors of Christ, bearing witness to a different kingdom. The church experiences true joy and honest groaning because it is rooted in real hope, knowing he who promised is faithful.