Death is one reality which is hard to confront. Most of us do not feel comfortable talking about the possibility of our own death, nor of those we love. There is in some sense an irrational fear which is at work: if I talk about death, I may indeed hasten it. It is also reflected in the way in which many people react to the death of another. Finding words to express our sense of grief, and to articulate the immense pain which we feel is too much of a struggle. Many funerals are held with the "stiff upper lip", or are turned into shallow celebrations where the harsh reality of death is glossed over.
It is no denial of the christian faith to struggle with the reality of death - a struggle echoed in Robert Browning’s poem.
Fear death? - to feel the fog in my throat, The mist in my face,
When the snows begin and the blasts denote I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in invisible form, Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained, And the barriers fall
Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained, The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so - one fight more, The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forbore, And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave, The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave, Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall first become peace out of pain, Then a light, then thy breast
O thou soul of my soup I shall clasp thee again, and with God be the rest!
Christians are asked to struggle with the reality of death as we reflect on the death of Jesus. Questions such as 'what does it mean to die?" 'What lies beyond death?" are supplemented with the tragedy of Jesus' death - so young, without sin... Why?
Knowing as we do the reports of Jesus' resurrection ought not diminish the deep sense of anguish which accompanies reflection on death: either Jesus' or our own. In death we let go of what we know, and take hold of the promises of God. The struggle of Gethsemane is our struggle too: "If there be any other way..."
March 26, 2000
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