In recent days our country has experienced some extraordinary events. Unprecedented in this country’s current generation is the public outpouring of sadness and heartfelt grief at the loss of two of its sons.
Peter Brock a hero of the 70’s and 80’s lost his life doing what he loved, racing cars. And Steve Irwin too, a hero celebrity of this era, tragically killed by the barb of a stingray. In the past week we have watched their funerals and memorial services in sadness and remembrance and said goodbye too.
There have been other tragedies in recent years: Lady Dianna’s death, the Twin-Towers attack, the Bali bombings, and the Tsunami in
In fact death, for Australian society as a whole, has been put back on the table in these days. And we do well to stop and study this collective grief in our country. We do well to seriously look at the foundation or primary issues which lie before us, as all of us struggle to deal with death. Be it Steve Irwin, Peter Brock, or for that matter, anyone close to us, who has lost their lives.
Why should we stop for a moment and look at the realities of death? Some might be sick of the brew ha and publicity, and wish people would just get on with it! But I encourage those who think this way to take a moment and reflect. Perhaps you’re not that different to the person who can’t get over the debilitating grief of someone’s death. We all need to stop and look at death for what it truly is, for a number of reasons.
The first of these reasons is since WW2 death has been sanitised and life expectancy is between 80 and 100 these days, whereas years ago it was 60 to 80. Health carers have medically prolonged life; postponed the inevitable till later on. And when death does occur, generally it is in hospital, neat and tidy, away from the reality of our regular lives.
However, for some, this is not true. They experience the sudden death of loved ones un-sanitised up close and personal, in the everyday of regular life. But because it’s not commonplace for the majority of people, our society finds it difficult to deal with death. We feel uncomfortable talking about it. And when death strikes close to us, prematurely perhaps, we don’t know how to cope. We avoid grievers as if they were freaks and as if death was not the inevitable outcome for us all — only because we don’t know how to approach death. The end result being we just don’t know how to grieve. So either we slip into depression and other health problems or insensitivity increases demanding others “get over it” so “I don’t have to deal with death”. The reality of death affects all people.
The second reason we need to talk about death is because of its effects on us. All of us are going to die. Like Steve Irwin and Peter Brock, none of us knows when. We all expect to live till we’re old; putting off death, as if it was not applicable to us. Our struggle with death and not knowing when it will arrive is made all the more difficult because of death’s sanitisation and the debilitating and deadly doctrines of youth culture we foolishly consumed these days. We have taken away our ability to learn what death is, and have hidden how death happens!
However, medical delayed death will plateau. We are sitting just below the ridge of this plateau right now. The death rate will increase naturally, or perhaps an
The bottom line is this: death is the norm for all people. But death was never meant to be normal in God’s perfect creation. This is why we grieve over those who have died; this is why the sting of death is so painful. We need to speak about death because at the core of living is dying, and in facing death we really only learn to receive the life God gives to us in Jesus Christ. It’s as simple as that! It’s as confusing and troublesome as that! But even more so, it’s as refreshingly gracious and eternally peaceful as that too!
A church that seeks to put this one big reality of death aside, fails to do what God calls it to do. A church that hides death is a church that ultimately puts Jesus Christ, the light of the world, under a bowl. The only reason any church exists is because of death; if death didn’t exist we wouldn’t be here, Jesus wouldn’t have died, and everything would be “all good”.
However, in a society that’s not “all good”, has lost its taste for God, and is seeking comfort from other unflavoured fast-food spiritualities, the Christian church is called to bear the salt of the world. In a culture that seeks to forget its mortality, but has become increasingly frightened of its mortal briefness, the church has the true light of eternal life to shine on, and dissolve, the darkness of eternal death.
Everything that the church is called to truly proclaim has something to do with death. That’s what makes the truth of Christianity such an unacceptable thing today, inside and outside the whole Christian church on earth. Death is so obvious to us all but it is so quickly pushed aside as a taboo topic in favour of other happy subjects. And when this imbalance continues year after year the essential questions we need answered are not addressed. These are the same answers we as a church are called to proclaim before the world, but unfortunately more and more are trivialised and dumbed down into a confused baseless message of love, unity, and peace. And yet within our hearts there is no peace, no unity, and love exists as lust, until we repent and allow the true source of love and unity to give us peace.
Being a Christian is about the font and the grave. Both the font and the grave have everything to do with death, along with everything in between. Jesus was born and baptised to die, and we have been baptised into this death to receive life. Because of his death we eat and drink his body and blood, for life over death. If we don’t believe and trust in these fundamental gifts we are back at eternal death. On reaching our earthly death we receive eternal life only because we have trusted and received the very things God has put in place to overcome death.
This is why Jesus was sent by God and why he taught the disciples, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31) And why Jesus says to you, “whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37b) Whoever welcomes Jesus through baptism, the loosing of sins, the preaching of his word, and the bread and wine, does not welcome things but welcomes the very God who seeks to save!
As Christians it’s not the multiplicity of sin that ultimately separates us from God anymore, it’s our unwillingness to trust, Jesus Christ, the one whom God sent and the means he put in place to save us from these sins and death. This persistent distrust of God’s way for the duration of one’s life is the sin against the Holy Spirit; the rejection of faith which leads to the rejection of grace and ultimately exclusion from God’s kingdom and eternal death.
Without these external gifts of faith and grace we have no way of escaping eternal death. God does not move past this reality; nor can we or nor should we. We need the love of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ his Son to cover the multiplicity of our sinful nature and save us from death, every day of our dying lives. This is the true light of hope for the world grieving its approaching death; Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the salt which can give eternal flavour and hope to the lives of all people.
A young fellow was heard grieving over Steve Irwin’s death. His lament was that Steve was not going to go to heaven because he says “crikey”. This is a powerful observation for a child to make, as this word is a contraction and blasphemy of “Christ Almighty”. But it’s not our sin that separates us it’s our lack of trust in God to save us from sin. Steve Irwin now knows where he is, so too does God, but it’s not for us to speculate. Rather, do you know where you are going? Do you trust the word of God?
God calls us not to give up on the things given by Christ to save us from death. We hear in James, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)
So come and trust in the baptism that saves from death, come rest in God’s presence in the church gathered in the baptismal name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Endure in the things of Christ, submit to God, come near to God and he will come near to you. Dear friends in Christ: Let us draw near to God our Father with a true heart to confess and be forgiven; to hear his word and be strengthened; to receive his body and blood and be assured; to pray for the world and be lights of God in a world that’s dying. Amen.
Let us pray. Save us, O God, by your name; vindicate us by your might. Hear our prayer, O God; listen to the words of our mouths. Surely God is our help; the Lord is the one who sustains us. For Jesus’ sake we pray, Amen. (Based on Psalm 54:1,2,4)