Tag: death

“Jesus is the answer!” So proclaims numerous road signs, Facebook posts, and bumper stickers. For those posting such things, it is an expression of their faith, of their confidence in Jesus. It a touchstone of peace and happiness for them and perhaps also for many who see it–but not for everyone. To a great many others, this statement provokes rather a sense of bewilderment, and begs a follow up question: “If Jesus is the answer, then what is the question?”

This thought brings to my lips a smile as I recall the analogous situation in Douglas Adams’ humorous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which a planet-sized super computer named “Deep Thought” was constructed and directed to come up with “the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”. The program ran for millions of years, and finally returned an answer: “42”. Unfortunately neither the Deep Thought nor his designers knew what the ultimate question happened to be. The pan-dimensional beings seeking this answer were then forced to construct another planet-sized super computer to figure out the ultimate question.

Ash Wednesday is a Christian celebration that reminds us of the question for which Jesus is the answer. Or, more accurately, we are reminded of the problem for which Jesus is the solution; That is, the problem of death:

“Remember, o man, dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.”

Thus intones the priest in many a ceremony as ashes are imposed upon the foreheads of penitent Christians, these words echoing God’s curse in Genesis 3, pronounced upon humankind as punishment for sin.

Death is literally the bane of our existence. It destroys all that we hold dear. Try as we might to banish it from our thoughts, death catches us all. We recoil from it as we simultaneously yearn for permanence and significance. The idea of the extinction of our consciousness into an eternal nothing is difficult for us to fully grasp, for “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Death is universal. We all die, because of our sin. Death is universal because sin is universal.

Fortunately, Ash Wednesday is merely the prelude to Easter. Whereas Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality, in essence saying, “Ye are dead”, Easter tells us: “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

The good news of Christianity is that God has set eternity in our hearts for a reason. It isn’t a dreadful taunt, or a meaningless musing. Jesus, the Christ, has died our death, in order that we might live his life. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

As the old Easter canticle proclaims:
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.”
(This comes from 1 Corinthians 15)

Jesus’ resurrection from death foretells our own liberation from it, and not only in the future, in an eternity after physical death. We may be liberated from its shadow, and its dread, and its power over us even in this life.

In the light of this good news, St Paul exults in his first letter to the Corinthians: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

As John Donne, the 16th century poet we recently profiled, elaborated so eloquently:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

(Sonnet X)

In Townville, South Carolina Wednesday more than 1000 mourners said farewell to a boy clad in a batman costume. The guests also came dressed as Wonder women, Power Rangers, Batman, and Captain America. The unusual event has captured briefly the attention of the world, as this story has made into news outlets as far away as Europe.

The deceased, Jacob Hall, was a nine year shooting victim who loved superheroes. His life was tragically cut short last week by a murderous teen who shot him in the leg at a school playground. The older youth (who is now in custody) had also earlier shot and killed his own father.

The Toronto Star reported that one of his friends called Jacob a “sweet boy who knew a lot about Jesus”. At the funeral, pastor David Blizzard had this to say:
“He’d say, ‘Mama, forgive that boy and love him like Jesus loves him because Jesus loves him.’ That’s exactly what Jacob would probably say.”

It sounds as though this young man was indeed a little superhero. We presume that he rests now in the arms of Jesus.

I was sad to read of a Detroit motorist who went out of life in a rather inglorious way. The 56 year old man died as his car flipped and partially ejected him through his sunroof; he was found to be not wearing pants and had been watching porn on his phone. Naturally this has reverberated around the web with poor taste puns like “this man was really beating traffic”. For reasons of respect, I omit the driver’s name. More can be found at various news outlets, including Detroit Free Press.

Aside from one obvious conclusion–don’t drive while watching porn–it struck me that for many, death is inglorious in a more cosmic sense. No matter how dignified our deaths may seem to fellow mortals, unless we are clothed with the white robes given by Christ, we will all be found pants-less and ashamed before the throne of God.

“Memento mori—remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die—what makes this any different from a half hour?”
(Leo Tolstoy)

All of us will come to a moment when we must face our own mortality. Few of us will have as spectacular a public forum in which to muse about it as the late singer David Bowie.

Just 2 days before his death he released his last album, “blackstar”.

In the video for his mournful new song “Lazarus,” David Bowie lies in what looks like a shabby hospital bed, bandages over his eyes, straining his frail body upward.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he sings over the forlorn wail of a saxophone. “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”

Read more at CNN: David Bowie’s haunting final album hints at death.

Unfortunately, while his artistry and boldness can be admired, it appears that his musings about death did not coalesce into a coherent religious experience or something anticipating a beatific vision. In the end his last words to us amount to little more than a spiritual version of word salad:

The album’s ominous title track, almost 10 minutes long, contains references to death and resurrection.

“Something happened on the day he died / Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside / Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried / I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar,” he sings.

The video for the song — whose imagery includes a faceless monster, crucified scarecrows, a jeweled skull inside a spaceman’s helmet and Bowie singing with bandages (again) over his eyes — almost defies interpretation.

Well here’s genuine word of wisdom from Mr. Bowie:

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”(from Thought Catalog).

RIP David Bowie. Our thoughts go out to his heartbroken family, friends, and fans.