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Telling Death how to feel

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sermon for the second Sunday after Easter


On 31st August 1997, the United Kingdom loses its stiff upper lip. Waking to the realisation that Diana, Princess of Wales has died in the early hours, the Nation seems to erupt into a “national outpouring of grief”. Why? Most people have never met her. The Royal Family maintain a dignified silence until they are told to show some emotion by the population.


Have you ever been told how to feel? It isn’t nice is it?


[PAUSE]


People get most worked up about death even if it is the death of one that they have never met. We can understand the wife mourning her husband and vice versa, but why on earth should we become so overly emotionally invested in the passing of someone whom we barely knew?


We know that we must mourn with those who mourn, but that is because we are utterly concerned about the widow or the orphan. This does raise a question for the Christian. If we believe in the resurrection of the dead, why should the passing of people worry us?


[PAUSE]


In a world where the dead are not raised, we find people really bewailing their lot. We see people trying to stave off the inevitable by exercise, cosmetic surgery, planning on being frozen at the point of death, agonising over wills and the control over their memory. These people seem to think that they have some control over their lives’ end. If the dead are not raised, there is everything to fear.


Like the Israelites in the wilderness, people cry out that they are starving and dying when really they are missing the point. Without God to trust in, their fear of death becomes all-consuming. Yet the Israelites believe in God, don’t they?


They do. But they don’t trust Him.


God sends manna from heaven, an abundance quails, water springing from rock. There is no thanks. Once the spectre of death has been removed from them, they return to their godless ways… until the fact of death comes back into view, that is.


[PAUSE]


What many people don’t want to realise is that God is responsible for life and death. As our Creator, it is fundamentally His right to begin and end someone’s life at His choosing. This seems grossly unfair with the paralysed man begging for death and the mother grieving over the tiny body of her dead baby. The spectres of Aberfan, the Twin Towers and the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 haunt us, and we cry to God for His account of His behaviour. We call Him a murderer. We say that He has cheated someone out of their life. We say that He is pitiless for not ending the life of one in chronic pain.


All this is natural and right and proper, and God expects death to upset us. It even upsets Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane when He is faced with His agony of crucifixion. It does not change the fact: God, as the Creator, has the right to end our lives.


And yet…


God does not want to end life!


Watch Him feed the Israelites murmuring against Him in the wilderness.


Hear Him say to Israel in their captivity in Babylon, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”


Hear Him say to the Jewish rulers, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”


Watch Him set the example of dying and rising again so that “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”


[PAUSE]


God has the right to bestow life and death. Yet, God does not want our death. Our death comes about from Humanity’s sinfulness. We are the ones that murder, willingly or unwillingly, not God. Our death comes as a consequence of the cumulative effect of all our sins. But God does something amazing: He gives us the opportunity to see death as the ending of sin in our lives. Those who die in the Love of God are not dead but rather alive to God beyond our understanding. What truly dies is all the effects of sin on our lives. Our death means our freedom and our joy in seeing Christ for all Eternity in True Life.


Yet when we mourn, we do so out of love, nothing less. The widow grieves for her husband because of her tender love, not because she is frightened of her own death. Those who die tragically are still held by God as part of the fabric of reality, even if they only take one breath on this earth. They still have the same opportunity of Eternal life as we do by embracing God.


We Christians are supposed to live and be alive, not shackled by a world that tells us that we must be frightened of death. We do not live life as a series of continual avoidances of death. We must live our lives for the One Who wants us alive with Him in Eternity. 

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