Let me see if I can do you a favor. Let me raise the issue and help us all to come to grips with the issue of death and dying. Sound macabre?  Do you quit reading right here? That’s sad. It also confirms what one New Testament writer was describing as: “… those who fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). It also raises the reality that we are never really free until we get honest about this inescapable reality.

Face it, death confronts us every day in so many ways. It is ever before us in ways, often entirely unanticipated: a much admired high school hockey team, who bus was broadsided in a traffic accident where all were killed, in school shootings or church shootings, in the daily obituary column in the newspaper, in the tragic and unexpected suicides of dear ones, in the gassing of civilians in Syria, in drowning refugees, or among the elderly in care facilities, or those in the operating room of hospitals where skillful surgeons are seeking to save their lives, or acquaintances with heart attacks at a young age, … and so many other ways.

And, if we stop and reflect, our own lives are going to come to an end sooner or later. We seldom know exactly how that will take place, … but that New Testament writer (above) says that the subliminal fear of death and dying can hold us captive. One can only live to the hilt, and with joy, if one is free from the fear of death. There are psychiatrists who have proposed that all of humankind live with three anxieties: the anxiety over meaning of life, the anxiety over our acceptance by others, and our anxiety over what is beyond death and the grave.

Then there is the theologian (P. T. Forsyth) who indicates that all humankind share five basic needs: 1) a center, 2) and authority, 3) a creative source, 4) a guiding line, and 5) a final goal. Yes, if we live without hope it can be frightening—whether we are 25 years old, or 85 years old. Very few of us of us knows exactly how and when we will die, or if we do, we can be slaves to the fear of what lies beyond.

Which is exactly why the message of Jesus Christ is worth looking at with this question in mind. The above New Testament writer says that Jesus is our hope since he shares our human flesh and blood, he took on our human nature “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” That is why the Easter event is so significant in the Christian community, and why the church’s faith is that because Jesus rose from the dead, we too believing in him shall be raised with him. It is why the celebration at one’s funeral is called: The Celebration of the Resurrection. It testifies that we have confronted death and the grave, and in Christ we have hope.

It is why for generations the Christian community has been able to sing songs about that great hope, such as: “One sweetly solemn thought comes to me o’er and o’er: I’m nearer my home today than I ever have been before.” Or: “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; changed and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” That is why the message of Jesus is one of hope, of deliverance from the slavery to the fear of death … tomorrow or fifty years from now. Don’t be reluctant. Confront the issue now. “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks…”

In Jesus’ death and resurrection, death has lost its sting and the grave has lost its victory. I speak as a nonagenarian who confronts it every day, but have lived with that hope for most of my life. It does, indeed set one free. Peace!

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge