Friday, October 7, 2011


This harvest time
The wind blows strong,
And earth lies hard
And sun shines cold.

A man is dead
For whom we long,
And though it's true
That he was old,

Yet death is never
Welcome here
With its dread gifts
Of hurt and fear

Death is still
Our enemy,
Fruit of wickedness
You see.

And so we mourn,
And so we cry
That our dear friend
Has had to die.


It seems to me that we rush past death and fling ourselves at comfort.  Or worse, those who mourn have tawdry bits of comfort flung at them.  What is wrong with mourning?  What is wrong with living through a rare moment when everything isn't going to be okay and the world's foundations quiver?  We live life half in a dream, hiding and escaping from so much that is true.  We put lipstick on death and pretty dresses, pretending that we are choosing it because of its salutary qualities.  Steve Jobs said that death was the best invention because it cleared out the old and brought in the new.  Which is all well and good if death is taking anonymous lives to renew abstract life.  But it is not so.  Death tracks down those whom we love, one by one.  The wretched fruit of Eden tracks them down and taunts us, "Put a pretty bow on this if you like.  I am devouring the one you love.  And one day I will come for you too.  Just you wait."

But what about the comfort and hope of the resurrection?  What about death as servant of eternal life?  To this I say that Jesus didn't leap from the grave on Saturday.  The miserable weight of wickedness and judgment hung heavily around their necks for a time.  They felt the reality of what is true: death steals and destroys and punches you in the gut so hard you don't know whether or not you'll be able to breath again.  When Jesus rose, the message was not, "See, death isn't so bad."  He did not tell us to make our peace with the age old enemy.  No, he brought the fight down into the depths of hell and he killed death.  And only then, after death's defeat, was he raised.  Death, therefore, has no power over those who have been joined to Christ's death.

So what do we do on days like this?  What do we do when death has claimed another?  We certainly do not pretend that it is okay, as if death might be endured.  No, we mourn as if death has stolen all that is good and right in this world.  We mourn because our father or mother or sister or brother or husband or wife has been taken from us forever.  And then, we go and we hear the promise.  And then we listen to the promise death has been swallowed up in victory.  This promise makes no sense when we have hidden death in lipstick and dresses; it makes no sense when we have told ourselves that death is a good thing; it makes no sense when we lie to ourselves saying that grandpa is playing cards in heaven and watching us with a smile.  To those who have neutered death to avoid feeling the horrible weight of it, this promise of Jesus Christ makes no sense.

And so this is why we shouldn't leap towards comfort.  No, let dreadful death and its effects have their say.  Let death speak to you about how all life ends in death.  Let this wickedness speak its name.  And in the midst of this awful reality Jesus Christ arrives.  And with him, and in his name, rebuke death itself.  Don't dress it up and make it your friend.  Rebuke it.  "You have no power over Earl.  For he has died with Christ and he will surely be raised with him according to the promise.  You will have no power over him.  Go back to Hell."


Scott said...

Well said. I have had similar thoughts myself but not with such articulate words.

John said...

When I was in school, one of my assigned reading was about a boy who died of a malignant brain tumor. His father wrote of his life, and chose a poem by John Donne as the title and a remembrance. It remains a favorite of mine

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Scott, thanks. It's one of those things that is a burr under my theological saddle.

John, I really need to track down a book of Donne's poetry. I remember the first line of the one you quote, but not much more. I would quibble with his theology, but I love a good verse turned.