Wednesday, August 29, 2007
WHERE IS YOUR STING?
Where is your sting? - (I Corinthians15:55)
There in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of Yahweh died as Yahweh decreed; he buried him in the valley opposite Bethpeor; but to this day no one has even found his grave.
Where could I go to escape your spirit? Where could I flee from your presence? If I climb the heavens, you are there; there, too, if I lie in Sheol.
There is a season for everything... A time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting, a time for uprooting... A time for killing, a time for healing... A time for tears, a time, for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing.
Where is your plague, Death? Where are your scourges, Sheol?
Happy those who mourn; they shall be comforted.
After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, 'It is accomplished'; and hanging his head he gave up his spirit.
As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and said aloud, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'; and with these words he fell asleep.
Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.
Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more... I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better.
Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised.
Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection, If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'
(Deuteronomy 34:5-6; Psalm 139:7-8; Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; Hosea 13:14; Matthew 5:4; John 19:30; Acts 7:59-60; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Philippians 1:21 and 23; Luke 2:29; John 11:25-26 -- all JB)
'Are you prepared to kill?' recruit to the armed forces was recently put on the spot with this question, to test his commitment to serve. Equally relevant and even more searching would be the question, 'Are you prepared to die?' In an armed encounter, you will not always be the lucky one. Or is death such a bad escape after all?, 'Death, where is your sting?,'
On the subject of death, the Bible is clear, firm and uncompromising. Moses, David, Simeon, Stephen, Paul and many other biblical characters welcomed its approach. Jesus pointed to a greater life beyond death and offered himself to Martha, Thomas and others, as the 'way' to eternity.
Many Christians today, particularly those engaged in pastoral ministry, live in regular contact with this dying. As a process or an event, it's often shunned in modern Western society. Information is withheld, pretences maintained, farewells foregone. What is the role of the pastor at the death-bed? To be emotionally involved or professionally immune? Yet he or she is the one person who can inject warmth, truth and hope into the experience of those who are watching, waiting and dying.
We can, of course, learn so much about death and dying from the Two-thirds World. Asians, Africans, Pacific Islanders, mostly live closer to the possibility of death -- and so perhaps grasp more fully the meaning and purpose and value of life. Certainly they have less fear!
Death is probably most difficult to accept when it occurs far away, in situations where there can be no watching or waiting or sharing. Grieving at a distance is a hard experience. It drives you back to a sense of utter dependence on the God who 'gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'.
A doctor said to me recently, 'Having been through the interesting process of dying with so many patients, I can hardly wait to share the experience myself!' Death is an adventure, a vital staging-post, on our pilgrimage. Yes, I am prepared to die!
Nine officers were killed by IRA mortar bombs last week in the worst attack against the Northern Ireland police since the present troubles began. Another officer, a Roman Catholic, was shot dead this week as he was about to enter a church for mass, bringing the total of killings in the province to eighteen in just over two weeks.
The Guardian, March 10, 1985
Death in itself, is nothing; but we fear, to be we know not what, we know not where.
What's brave, what's noble,
Let's do it after the high Roman fashion,
And make death proud to take us.
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra
No life that breathes with human breath
Has ever truly longed for death.
Tennyson, The Two Voices
Why should man be in love with his fetters, though of gold? Art thou drowned in security? Then I say thou art perfectly dead. For though thou movest, yet thy soul is buried within thee, and thy good angel either forsakes his guard or sleeps. There is nothing under heaven, saving a true friend (who cannot be counted within the number of movables), unto which my heart doth lean. And this dear freedom hath begotten me this peace, that I mourn not for that end which must be, nor spend one wish to have one minute added to the uncertain date of my years. It was no mean apprehension of Lucian, who says of Mennippus, that in his travels through hell, he knew not the kings of the earth from other men, but only by their louder cryings and tears: which were fostered in them through the remorseful memory of the good days they had seen, and the fruitful havings which they so unwillingly left behind them: he that was well seated, looked back at his portion, and was loth to forsake his farm; and others either minding marriages, pleasures, profit, or preferment, desired to be excused from Death's banquet: they had made an appointment with earth, looking at the blessings, not the hand that enlarged them, forgetting how unclothedly they came hither, or with what naked ornaments they were arrayed.
Francis Bacon, Essay on Death
It comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes. The ashes of an Oak in the Chimney are no Epitaph of the Oak to tell me how high or how large that was. It tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood, nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great persons' graves is speechless too, it says nothing, it distinguishes nothing: as soon the dust of a wretch whom thou wouldest not, as of a Prince thou couldest not look upon, will trouble thine eyes, if the wind blow it thither; and when a whirlwind hath blown the dust of the Churchyard into the Church, and the man sweeps out the dust of the Church into the Churchyard, who will undertake to sift those dusts again, and to pronounce, This is the Patrician, this is the noble flower, and this the yeomanly, this the Plebeian bran. So is the death of Jesabel (Jesabel was a Queen) expressed; They shall not say, this is Jesabel; not only not wonder what it is, nor pity that it should be, but they shall not say, they shall not know, This is Jesabel.
John Donne, Death the Leveller
Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not -- would not -- give up hope till the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning -- yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.
Robert Scott, Death of Captain Oates
The disease may, however, be one of those from which there is no certainty that the patient will recover. I am reminded of an old friend, a woman of boundless energy and optimism. One might have wondered if her faith, when she was in good health and engaged in a full and useful life of spiritual service, was only the reflection of her simple and confident nature. I saw her later, immobilised on her bed of pain. In answer to her direct question, her doctor had informed her of the inevitable diagnosis he must make of her condition. She was preparing herself joyfully for death. She was more radiant than ever. Visitors flocked to see her, and found in her a testimony that was more striking than she had given in active life and health.
Paul Tournier, The Person Reborn
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, who at this evening hour didst rest in the sepulchre, and didst thereby sanctify the grave to be a bed of hope to thy people; make us so to abound in sorrow for our sins, which were the cause of thy passion, that when our bodies lie in the dust, our souls may live with thee; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, our God, world without end. Amen.
The Office of Compline
Jesus, confirm my heart's desire to work and speak and think for thee; still let me guard the holy fire and still stir up thy gift in me.
Ready for all thy perfect will, my acts of faith and love repeat, till death thy endless mercies seal and make the sacrifice complete.
Go forth upon thy journey, O Christian soul; in the Name of God the Father, who created thee; in the Name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who suffered for thee; in the Name of God the Holy Ghost, who hath sanctified thee.
May thy portion this day be in peace and thy dwelling in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 129-134