You may be asking why I am venturing down the dark corriders to talk about death. Death is such a downer afterall. But when you work in parish ministry you bump up against death on a regular basis. In the past few months I have watched some dear saints from our church face death and as hard as you try to not let it, this affects you. These are your people, your flock, your friends. So its natural to ask questions, to reflect on the meaning of life and for that matter the meaning of death.
I know that the title of this blog may stick in some people’s throat. Death can seem very final. There’s no coming back. And those left behind can feel lonely, forsaken, even betrayed. The title in fact comes from a Nick Cave song, one of my favourite actually. In it he encourages us to “Just remember that death is not the end.” He goes on to list all kinds of perilous and violent situations only to remind us again that death is not the end. There is no need to fear death, its not the end it just is.
Now don’t get me wrong death can be horrible. The death of a child. The sudden loss of a loved one. Murder, suicide, war, genocide and other types of unexpected deaths can be unbearable for family and society to deal with. At times like this death can seem like the greatest of evils.
To watch someone waste away from cancer, AIDS, alzhiemer’s or ALS is not easy either. I wouldn’t wish it on my greatest enemy. Also to watch someone die who is not at peace with their fate is not a pleasant thing either. It is agonizing for those who stand by and makes the loss that more raw. In cases like this death seems like no friend at all.
But that being said there is something sacred about death. Maybe you know what I’m talking about if you have witnessed someone face death with courage, strength, dignity, faced it with faith. Faced it in such a way that you know death is not the victor, but a release, a gateway to somewhere else, a way home. To witness this is hard yes, but the sorrow is tinged with joy, even hope, that death is not the end.
Jesus has a lot to say about this in the gospels, as does the entire New Testament. Over the past couple of Sundays in the lectionary readings Jesus has being calling his followers to eat is body and drink his blood. He’s said things like, This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” Its hard to take Jesus literally here as we see faithful Christians die all the time. So what is Jesus saying about death, about life? Our minds may go too quickly here to the afterlife. I do think that that is part of it but Jesus was not only concerned with a other worldly insurance plan. Jesus is very this wordly and is concerned with the here and now. In essence Jesus saying if you partake of me you will live like me. If you feast with me, on me, you will die like me. Who else do you know who has been resurrected? So if we consum ethe body and blood of Jesus, we will live like him, we will die like him, which means we will live again like him. Just remember that death is not the end.
Its not so much that Jesus has ended death, but the finality of death. Death has lost its sting, it has been revealed for what it is – a part of life. Death is not good or bad, it just is. In fact death can give our lives meaning, a sense of purpose. It reminds us of our mortality, that we only have a short time here so we must make the most of it. Jesus shows us the way to make the most of it is through love, compassion, justice, and peace. In the poem that follows death is pictured, “Not as the wolf that once haunted your dreams, but as man’s best friend gently kissing your face.”
My old friend,
your time has come.
Say farewell to fear
and welcome love.
The ones you love are all around
Think of loved ones gone before.
Think of sunshine through the trees.
Think of the first snowfall.
Think not of mistakes,
All that you have let it go,
all that you are will continue to grow.
Death comes to you now,
not as the wolf that once haunted your dreams,
but as man’s best friend
gentky kissing your face.
This is not the end
this is not farewell.
This is light and love and now.
My old friend,
your time is come.