Responses to Death

There are many euphemisms we use to describe death: different ways of getting around confronting death's finality. It is a difficult thing to say 'My friend has died", we find it much easier to speak in coded and cryptic language: they have "passed on"; "pegged out"; "keeled over'; they are "pushing up daisies"; "heard the final trumpet call; their "number came up"; they "came to an abrupt conclusion'; "earned their wings"; they have "gone to glory'; "pulled the plug", and so on. Some of them have a humorous edge to them, almost defying the pain of death's reality.

In many senses, the death of someone close to us is with us for the remainder of our lives, as we seek to adjust to their no longer being with us, and as we face times when we just wished they could be there to talk things over with. When a death is particularly tragic or unexpected, we are left with ongoing questions of meaning, intent and purpose. The pain of some deaths linger long and close to the surface.

In contemplating the death of Jesus, we need to recognise the deep shock and dislocation for the disciples and others who were close to him. They knew only the finality of death: its rude and aggressive destruction of hopes and dreams. As they watched Jesus hang on the cross, the last drops of life ekeing out of his body, their own pain magnified the sense of hopelessness and despair which grew within.

To talk of the death of Jesus as the birth of hope was something these disciples could not grasp. In the days following Jesus' death, they were a forlorn and scattered people - unified only in their grief. When news of the resurrection came, they were in no position to receive it. They were still suffering under the weight of death and grief. One might even argue that it took until the coming of Pentecost for the disciples to truly grasp the hope that came only through the death of Jesus.

Today, the temptation ever before us is to skip straight to the resurrection and overlook the scandal and trauma of Jesus' death. Many of the euphemisms we use to describe death are blunt in their finality. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is at least one euphemism which points beyond the finality: "gone to heaven". While it may not erase the pain of death for those who remain, it reminds us that death's finality has been removed for all who trust in Jesus.

April 9, 2000
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