Western society is now more isolated from death than it has ever been.
We have great luxuries: infant mortality rates have plummeted; death during childbirth is almost unheard of and life expectancy has stretched enormously with modern medical advances. (Not quite pre-flood life spans, of course, but a significant majority reaching the commended seventy years of the Psalms.)
And these are luxuries. Death itself is ugly, nauseating and hardly to be revelled in. It is not without reason that Death is personified as “The Last Enemy” of the Christian.
Yet, despite all our modern progress, it is worth meditating on the place that death plays in our lives. It is not to be taken lightly, and even less so with the almost clinical isolation that we manage to concoct around it nowadays.
The blessing for acquaintances of the deceased
God is speaking, loud and clear. There is no ignoring, shirking or pretending around the reality of death. It is final, it is complete, and it is in full accordance with God’s will.
Few things are as certain as the fact that we will all die one day. It is a kindness from God to be reminded of this periodically. We can become complacent. We can lose perspective. We can forget God. He is good not to leave us in that self-centred place and remind us simply that He IS.
What a privileged to have the God of all mercy communicating with us. Warning, yes… but so tenderly-intentioned for all those He wants to bring home to Himself.
The blessing for loved ones of the deceased
It is heart-wrenchingly difficult to lose a loved one.
There is comfort when we know our loved one is with the Lord. We do not mourn as those without hope. It is a balm to know that their suffering in this world is over. That their joy is complete. That their sanctification has been perfected. We are told to covet the best gifts, and almost we could be jealous of the wonderful completion of the race that God has acted out in their lives.
(I cannot begin to sympathise with an alternative reality, of a loved one who does not know the Lord – I’m thankful in God’s mercy to me that I have not had to experience that agony. Rather than spew out some meaningless platitudes, I’m not even going to address this.)
Beyond their joy, for ourselves the reality of death is being brought home to us in a personal way. A way that cannot but prompt an exploration of deep soul-searching questions. Along with our friends, we are being brought to our senses in keeping a perspective on the transience of life. And we are challenged by the personal aspect to consider whether we have our house in order. “Will I be next?”, “Who will mourn for me?”
More than anything, we are being shown the disgusting wretchedness of sin. That sin should be the cause of this great evil disturbing our lives and happiness. That sin is against God. The same God currently sustaining and comforting us in our grief. I know of no more visible and tangible demonstration of the ugliness of sin than coming face-to-face with death.
The blessing for the deceased
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 1 Corinthians 15:55
It is not easy to enter into Apostle’s ejaculatory comment: to understand and be willing for God’s glory in this, the lonliest of all trials. God gives grace for dying only to those about to die, so it is hardly surprising that such revelation may almost be terrifying to a young Christian. Awe-inspiring at least.
Yet we have hope. Death, though an enemy and a fierce one at that, is the last enemy. (John Donne captured this most elegantly in one of my favourite poems.) No more sorrow, no more sighing, No more tears. It is enough, it is the end.
(4)And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (5)And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. (6)And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. Rev 21:4-6
May my dearest Opa R.I.P. ’til the resurrection.