Tag Archives: death
And maybe that’s true! Maybe people really don’t need a forty-year-old suburban dad in a uniform to show up and recite a script when you may only have a few hours or days to live. To stand outside the hospital and pray for you in case you don’t have anyone else to do it. “Deliver your servant.” Part of me hopes it’s true, that no one needs that, because it’s certain that few people get it.
We spend our lives in this world trying to find a home. Trying to make a home. We rent a place or buy a place or we stay with friends. We bring our bag of belongings to a church basement. We get on a plane to go from a refugee camp to a new country that’s been willing to receive us. We decorate. We personalize. Even detained immigrant children will try to give some beauty to their surroundings.
This fear is a dreadful burden to carry. It really is. We don’t notice it, because we’re so accustomed to it, but it’s like a load of bricks on our back. It’s a way of letting death win in advance. And here’s my pet theory about it: It’s not that we, as modern Americans, are so in love with our own lives—that we are so overflowing with joy and satisfaction that we lash out at the slightest hint of possible danger. It’s that we do not believe in or value our eternal souls. As if so many of us believe we are not prepared to bring our sins before God. Or maybe worse, as if we think there is no such thing, and there will be no accounting of our actions.
And yet now, having known the consolations of a loving marriage, pursued the full course of my formal education, tasted the vocations that define my life, and treasured the unspeakable joy of fathering a child, the prospect of a parting sometimes fills me with far greater bitterness than it did back when my life was still a blank canvass. I’ve had to explain to skeptics that when Paul says, rhetorically, “where grave is thy victory; where O death is thy sting?” he is referring to the final resurrection, not to our own mind here and now. Here and now the grave wins its victory and death inflicts a palpable sting, to those who leave too soon and to those who are left. Yet youth is perhaps innocent even of this.
At Deep Springs and, I imagine, many other small, isolated communities, a certain convergence of personal styles takes place. We arrived distinct from each other but grew, externally at least, more and more alike: Long hair or a buzz with the #3 razor; generations of farm-suitable clothes intermingling and being exchanged; an inevitable preference for glasses over contacts. The passage of time only compounds the effect. People we knew by smell (not that difficult in that place) or by footfall at the time become blurrier, singly or together. Looking at this picture I at first mistook another guy for me. My mother mistook a different guy for me.
Here’s a cheerful question for Good Friday: Should Christians flee a deadly plague?
We may not have had occasion to ask ourselves this. We do have to think about how to manage our own viral infections and those of others. We watch helplessly as a stomach flu or cold rips through a whole household. More and more we are faced with outbreaks of things like Ebola or Zika, and we have to ask how to rightly respond to them.
But deadly plagues were a constant feature of life before modern sanitation and antibiotics. And so it happened that Martin Luther was asked, in 1527, whether a Christian was allowed to flee a city that had an outbreak of a deadly disease in a German city.
Throughout all of Lent, we have heard about Jesus’s great and good deeds among his friends. We have heard of the hope that lingers even in bad times because a community of love still exists. We have treasured the good news God brings us through family, through the fellowship of believers, through the gifts of food and forgiveness that we must all give and receive throughout our lives. We have kept our faith because we are not alone, because life goes on and God’s blessings with it.
But not today. Not on Long Friday, Sorrowful Friday. Today there is no moral to the story. There is no gentle blessing. There is no meal shared among friends throughout the ages. There is no community that endures. Today I wish to let us sit, for a moment, with the grief and fear of the disciples. Today, for a moment, let us allow it to be finished.
(Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Ash Wednesday, 2016) Sisters and brothers grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. After all of that unpleasantness in the garden, God tells Adam about his life: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, […]
(Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Ash Wednesday, 2012) Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. When the LORD God chose to make a human being, the story goes, he knelt down in the dust of the earth. The LORD […]
The day after my mother-in-law died, we went to church and then to my oldest son’s baseball game. It had been a long illness with no real doubt about its conclusion, but the end still comes with a fresh harshness and finality, however long it’s been anticipated and however welcome the release from pain and […]