You are going to die. How does that make you feel? Do you shudder? Get sick to your stomach? Fall into a panic? Do you shut this reality to the back of your mind where you hope it will disappear into the vast reaches of your consciousness? How does it feel to know that life is fleeting and that one day all your accomplishments, all your possessions, and all your knowledge will be trivial as you are reunited with the dust that you were made from? Have you stopped reading out of despair, discomfort, or disturbance? If not, hang in there.
I have written it before, and I will write it again. We suck at dealing with death. We don’t know how to navigate it, talk about it, or handle it. We don’t know how to face it. So, what do we do? We ignore it, act like it isn’t there. Even more so we try to defeat it and conquer it. We spend so much time trying to defeat death and avoid it, we may forget that we in fact ought to be preparing for when death inevitably snatches us up. Death scares us stiff, so we act like it isn’t the eventual end. We act like we are going to live forever. It isn’t fun to realize that death will come for all of us. Even more so, when someone close to us dies it can send even the healthiest person reeling because so many people are unprepared.
But not you, dear Christian. Or at least, I hope not. For what more is the Christian life than preparing to die? This has been the largest tension I have observed in the past year and continue to observe today. Death has a grip on us, and we have now discovered how tightly it squeezes us when we are presented with it as reality. Even the slightest risk starts to suffocate us. This past year was a test on the church, a test on how well the church has prepared people to die, and ultimately it has failed.
This isn’t a comment on the efficacy of masks or any other restriction utilized during this ongoing pandemic. Instead, it is a comment on how readily the church was ready to abandon meeting together in the name of saving lives. Ironic, isn’t it? The more troubling thing now is where does this end? When has it been enough? Certainly, some people will fall away from the faith or already have. It is apparent we can physically love our neighbors to spiritual death when the act of love means keeping them from what sustains their faith. The two cannot be separated, but they have been. My concern is how quickly so many abandoned the thing that prepares us for death so easily and has yet to return… the message is clear; we aren’t ready to die.
If you are reading this and find yourself appalled that I would cast such judgment, then good. It is time to go back to the one place that takes death head-on, prepares you for it, and proclaims victory. For the Christian life is preparing you to die, through confession and absolution, through the reading of God’s living and active word, through the proclamation of Law and Gospel, and through the reception of Christ’s body and blood that sustains you until death comes knocking on your door. The church exists to prepare dying people to no longer fear it. The church exists to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments that point to the fact that death no longer has the power here. The church exists to proclaim a living and breathing Christ to a world that is trying to avoid dying. Maybe you never left, maybe you have already returned, or maybe you are still cautiously waiting to return. I encourage you to find a way to get back to church, prepare to die by hearing that death no longer reigns, and in Christ, you will rise to new life. Prepare to die by eating and drinking the physical body of the resurrected Jesus and be sustained and assured that although you may die, you will live. For Christ is truly risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.