The “d” word

On Sunday I went to see a friend who has an inoperable brain tumor. Barring a miracle, he isn’t, as my Mom used to put it, “long for this world.” What do you say in a situation like that?

I asked a few questions. Mostly I just listened. Before leaving I felt prompted to tell him about a couple promises in the Bible that have given a LOT of people–especially people facing death–hope through the centuries. I printed those verses–John 3:16 and Romans 6:23–on the back of an envelope and asked God to help my friend not only understand the words but also to trust them.

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Flickr, Creative Commons, autowitch, April 23, 2008, http://bit.ly/1o7Osnc

Death. What a spooky, strange reality. We all know it’s somewhere up ahead, lurking, unavoidable. And yet we we do everything we possibly can to push it to the margins of our lives.

It used to be that when Grandma died, Mom and Pop would prop her up right there in the living room, and the neighbors would come over to the house and pay their respects. Now we quickly ship the departed off to special, separate buildings called “funeral homes.” It’s more remote and less personal that way–which is precisely the point, right?

Now, instead of burying Grandma in the family plot out behind the house (or adjacent to the church building we frequent weekly), where her marker would be an ever-present reminder of mortality, we inter her remains in a lonely graveyard …down some seldom-used country road.

Out of sight = out of mind. Or so we think. But try as we might, the reminders of death are everywhere—those aching joints, that wrinkled skin that no amount of miracle cream can fix, those preposterous commercials that, in urging us to take this or that drug for our latest malady, all but guarantee us a dozen new and even worse medical problems!

How did St. Paul put it? “Outwardly we are wasting away.” Perhaps it’s grim to admit, but our lesser ailments (and our more serious illnesses) really do act as death’s heralds—whispering (or sometimes yelling) the imminent arrival of our last enemy.

So what are we to do? Exercise more and eat more kale? Make an appointment with a good cryogenics lab? Throw up our hands in despair? Not at all. Paul would urge us to put our hope in the gospel: The good news that Jesus Christ not only died for our sin, He also triumphed over death. Meaning, He’s alive! And doing what? In St. John’s words, “making all things new.” Having completed the great work of Redemption, the risen Christ is now laying the groundwork for the Great Restoration.

I was sitting in the nursing home the other day with my Mom. She’s 86, and, yes, wasting away–not just her body, but her mind too. Most days, she can’t recall our previous day’s visit. Anyway, I saw her old King James Bible sitting there. And so I picked it up and read to her (and to my own soul) those words of St. John at the beginning of Revelation 21: the promise of a “new heaven and new earth.” The reverse of the curse. A restored universe with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

Can it get more hopeful than that? A world where death itself is dead? Where even “passing away” has passed away?

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