By Joel A. Hess –
This past week, I had the privilege once again to sit near the bedside of a woman breathing her last breath. Afterward, I noticed the hospice caretaker speak gently about her client to her daughter. When referring to her death, she never said “she died.” Instead, like so many within and without the community of the risen Jesus, the nurse said “she passed.”
People don’t like to say that their loved one “died.” We don’t like to say we are having a “funeral,” either. Instead, we say “celebration of life.” We don’t want anyone to be sad or upset. We avoid these terms because somehow if we don’t say them, then death can’t come in. We think we are holding the rot and stench of the grave away from our loved ones and from our lives.
And why not? Surely there is nothing more frightening than death. The word itself is ugly and final sounding. We keep it away from children and old ladies. It belongs in a horror movie, not a carefully decorated room with pictures and flowers with the sound of ocean waves mesmerizing the guests.
Yet by not saying the word, we let it have its hold on us. May that never be! Christ is risen!
Even though I go through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
Because Christ has conquered sin and death, we don’t need to pretend neither enemies exist in order to feel safe! We can confess the worst of our sins before one another and God Himself. Christ has died! It is finished. We can say “my dear mother has died, and we are going to have a funeral.” We can stare Satan in the face just as much as we can bury our own dead because death has lost its sting, thank you very much.
It’s ok to cry and mourn. Why hide your tears when Jesus himself promises that He will wipe them away? Why hide your mourning when Jesus himself says, “Blessed are those who mourn?”
We can bury our loved ones with our own hands. We don’t need to quickly clean things up, remove dead bodies, and sanitize our space. We are not afraid of the dead. We are not afraid to say the word. Christ is risen, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Last month, one of my members came up with the splendid idea of building caskets. I had already been talking about starting a cemetery on our property. I am confident these ideas have never been uttered at any church growth conference or youth ministry think tank. Yet these endeavors are just what the church needs! We own death because Christ owns death! How has it been taken from us?
How many poor ladies choose cremation over burial just because the cost of burial is so high? Yes, I know, cremation is a whole other topic. We will make coffins and give them to those in need!
And what better testimony to our faith in Christ’s promises than walking by gravestones as we enter the sanctuary? What better comfort to the bereaved to have their fellow saint close by where the Word of God that raises the dead is regularly preached?
I suppose it might turn off the young people who don’t think they are going to die. Well, that’s the problem for the old people, too. What a great children’s sermon illustration every Sunday.
I’ll say it again, and you, dear reader, say it with me, “Death where is your sting?!”