I’ve lost four friends during the past year. As it happens only 1 of those deaths was recorded as COVID related. However, the presence of the pandemic has made us more alert to death. There is something grim about the arrangements of funerals with the restrictions on who can attend and the required social distancing that brings it home. Without God, death is a matter of despair.
Death is something we don’t like to talk about. It has been said that the Victorians talked much about death and little about sex but we have reversed that. Yet, the loss of over 100,000 lives in the UK alone has meant that we can no longer avoid talking about it. It is firmly present with us in the daily statistics.
So, what does it mean to talk about death?
It means that we must recognise its reality and inevitability. From time to time, Sarah and I talk about the future and what might be the implications of aging and one of us dying. I occasionally point out that whilst the women in our family have a history of making it well into their 90s, this is less common among the men folk. Neither of my granddads made it into their 70s. Of course, there were health factors from their time but on the rule that men don’t tend to make it much past their allotted three-score and ten years, then officially I have maybe 25-35 years left. I’m well past the official half-way mark. Yet whether I get taken early by illness or a nasty accident or whether I do a Captain Tom and soldier on towards my 100s, I know that one day I must die and then after that face God’s judgement day.
If we know that there is a day coming, unavoidable and certain then we would be wise to prepare for it. Are you prepared for that day when Christ calls? This means of course that to be ready means that I must have put my trust in Christ. But it is also about preparing in other ways. A big part of that preparation means that I need to make best use of my time now for God’s glory, living each day as though it could be my last.
Death is cruel and painful. It is an enemy. Yes, it is a defeated enemy but all the same it is an enemy. It is cruel and painful because it often comes with suffering. Modern medication may have made great advances in alleviating pain and suffering but it can only do so much. I’ve sat by a couple of bedsides with people fighting for breath, unable to eat and even increasingly to take in fluids. If you are not prepared for this, it can be distressing to witness.
However, there is also the cruelty of losing people close to you. A mother and father, a wife or husband, a sister and brother being parted from someone close is painful. There is pain and loss even when we say goodbye to someone who has reached a grand old age, into their 90s. In two of the cases this last year, the ones who died were quite close to me in age. We often talk about being robbed when people died young. They are robbed of a life ahead and we are robbed of their friendship and companionship.
It is important to know this because when grief hits, it comes with the full range of emotions, guilt, anger, deep sadness and distress, numbness. It is important for those who mourn to know that this is okay. It’s allowed. Even Jesus weeps at a graveside and the language in John’s description of his weeping at the tomb of Lazarus suggests anger in his grief too. Death is not nothing. It’s not that a loved one has just popped to another room.
I have often prayed at funerals and with grieving families those beautiful words
“We mourn but not as those without hope.”
The Grave is a certain thing but for believers in Christ, we have certain hope beyond the grace. WE know that Christ has defeated sin and death and that we will be with him forever. Death does not have the last word.
This also does mean as I mentioned above that there is judgement ahead too. There is a certainty beyond the grave for all but for some it is the certainty of Hell. For others, it is the certainty of eternity with the Lord, knowing that we will see his face.