A distinguished part of every congregation is what can be called the Senior Saints. I am thinking here of the brothers and sisters that are in the seventy-plus category. Most likely, they are not officially known as the Senior Saints in any congregation. They might informally be known as the Seventy Plus Club, or more formally as the Golden Agers or the Youth of Yesterday, or something similar. In some congregations, the entry age may be sixty-five, but with the increases in life expectancy, seventy is the new sixty-five. When one adds that the government is increasing the retirement age, the bar may soon be raised to seventy-five. For now, seventy-plus can safely be considered as the age for entry into the Senior Saint category.
Being a Senior Saint brings with it a few perks. At the very least, they get their name in the church bulletin when it is their birthday, and, depending on the size of the congregation, they may be remembered in congregational prayer by name. Some congregations host special dinners for their Senior Saints around Christmas time or other times of the year. In some congregations, the deacons may deliver a gift basket around Christmas time as well.
While it is true that some enter the Senior Saint stage with a variety of ailments, and some are taken home to be with the Lord when they have barely entered that stage, many brothers and sisters still have a great deal of life left in them. They have too much energy just to sit around with nothing specific to do. For some, after a life of hard work, there is time for travel to far-flung places, perhaps going on one of those trips to the Bible lands. This is not for everyone, because either it does not really interest them or they do not have the resources. Some get involved in volunteering, such as helping at a local Bible for Missions store, volunteering at the local hospital or with the Red Cross, or some other worthwhile endeavour, where they can apply their wide variety of skills. Others look after a multitude of tasks in the congregation, perhaps picking up the local bulletin from the printer each week, quietly seeing to it that the yard around the church is in tiptop shape, or attending to administrative tasks in the congregation. This is all done without fuss or drawing attention to themselves. They understand the church is a body where everyone does whatever the Spirit has equipped them to do, and they do it out of love for the Lord and his church. In this way, they contribute much to the upbuilding of the body of Christ.
To be sure, this is not true for everyone. Some Senior Saints take the word "retired" a little too seriously. They can travel so much, for example, that it looks like they have retired from their local church body. Some, when asked why they don't seem to be involved too much in the life of the congregation anymore, may say, "I've done my share, now it's time for someone else to take over." That is not good for their own spiritual and physical health, nor is it good for the health of the church body. No part of the body can say it is no longer needed, but all must pull their weight. Idleness is the devil's handmaiden when one is young, and it is no different when one is older. We are called to serve, not be selfish (cf. John 13:1-20; 1 Corinthians 12; Belgic Confession Article 28).
In fact, the time of dependence on being served by others may come sooner, rather than later. Eventually, even the most vigorous among the Senior Saints has to face the reality described in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5, which describes in a series of metaphors the fading of vigour as strong bodies shrink and bend over with age, eyesight grows dim, deafness sets in, teeth fall out, and sleep is elusive. I have heard that stage of life described as, "Having nothing to do and all day to do it in." Then the gold goes out of the golden age, as it becomes evident that human bodies are mere tents, rapidly fading away. It is always sad to see Senior Saints, who have been involved in the life of their own family and the extended church family, reduced to faint shells of their former selves by heart attacks, strokes, and cancers. Depending on the severity of the ailments at the end of their lives, they have to wait out the end of their days in some care facility, as dependent upon the care of others as they were when they were first born. With all the faculties that are fading away, the thought, "What use am I? I am only a burden to my family and all those around me," may rush in and not go away. It is also the time when, despite many visits and contacts, there is a sense of loneliness, and that all the more so when one has lost one's spouse.
In some cultures, it appears to have been considered proper to quietly slip away from the family one day and find an ice flow, so your family wouldn't feel burdened having to look after someone who could not make any significant contribution to the life of the family and community anymore. In our culture, it appears that, for some, the concern is not so much to spare others the burden of having to care for them but that they want to spare themselves the suffering that may come with dying. Therefore, they want the right to determine when their own end will come by means of assisted suicide, on the assumption that they will be better off dead than lying in bed.
Yes, there is that lingering question, "What use am I?" That question might not wait for the final stage of life but may come sooner, especially when one has to deal with a whole variety of ailments requiring surgeries and follow up treatments to the point that life revolves around doctor visits. When that question does not want to go away, it is good to think of Psalm 92:14,15, where the Psalmist says that the righteous "still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." Senior Saints may wonder how it is possible to still bear fruit. As they experience physical frailty, they will have a hard time seeing themselves as young green saplings. They may come across more as an old stump. The key, however, lies in the last line, "To declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." This touches on the prophetic aspect in the office of all believers. It brings to mind the words of Peter about being "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9). Indeed, declaring the greatness of the LORD is one of our core tasks as his children. By declaring the uprightness of the LORD, how he has proven to be a rock of refuge over a long life, sustaining one through all the trials and tribulations, a Senior Saint can still bear fruit in old age. Senior Saints can say, "This faith is more than just words. I have experienced it time and again that my only comfort is that I belong to Jesus Christ."
What Psalm 92 brings out is that Senior Saints still have an important task in the midst of the congregation, a task that cannot be fulfilled by anyone else. No one else can look back on a long life where they experienced the LORD was their help, their keeper, their shade on their right hand (Ps. 121). That task ends only when the Lord calls his children home. Even when that time draws near, in the way one approaches death's door is a testimony. It certainly is not a good testimony if it appears to others that one has rigidly put one's hands and feet against the frame of death's door to delay entry. It is a glorious testimony when one shows a readiness and eagerness to be with the Lord, knowing that is far better. Furthermore, when Senior Saints show themselves eager and willing to testify to the goodness of the Lord throughout their life, as expressed also, for example, in Psalm 71, they will be able to encourage all who come to visit them.
I started by mentioning that Senior Saints are honoured in the life of the congregation. It is good for all to be reminded of their task, so it is possible to look at all the Senior Saints marching into church each Sunday with renewed appreciation for the task the Spirit gives them. The congregation may expect spiritual encouragement from their older members. It is also good for the Senior Saints to be reminded of their task, just in case they were feeling a little useless and a burden to others because there seems to come a stage they can only be on the receiving end and not give anything in return. Senior Saints can give a great deal when they speak about the Lord, declaring he is upright, their rock, their only comfort. In that way, they will still bear fruit in old age.