This afternoon I have to bury someone. Sam died on Sunday night. Seeing his lifeless body made me think again about the nature of death. I thought that I would write down some of the reflections I have had, over the years, on this subject.
My first impressions of death were that it seemed unreal. I was at a funeral when I was a child and I wondered if there really was a body in that coffin. Of course I knew there was, but it was hard to take in. Death was something hidden.
Later, when I was in school, the father of a guy in the year below me died. It seemed shocking. Here was a man who I had seen watching his son play rugby, now he was gone. You can be here one minute and away the next.
In Dungannon, where I worked as a lay-assistant in some churches, I met a couple of people who showed hope in the face of death.
There was my elderly friend John, who told me he wanted to go and be with Jesus. It seemed unnatural to hear someone talk like that, death is something we normally fight with every sinew of our being. Reflecting on it later it made sense, here was a man who loved God in life and now looked forward to enjoying him for ever.
Similarly, in that hospital I met a Christian woman in her forties who was dying of cancer. Her sure hope was in the Jesus she knew as a friend.
We seem so helpless in the face of death. A woman in on my last circuit of churches died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. Everything else about her was fine, yet this illness ate away and took her life. I am going to my school reunion this weekend, I think two of my year have died since we left school, others may well join them in the next decade.
My most recent thought on death is how ignoble it is. There is a life ended. All that you now see is a corpse.
The gospel addresses the issue of death. In his letter to the Christians at Rome the Apostle Paul explains that human death entered our world because of human sin. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that beyond death we face judgement. Jesus warned that if we do not trust in him this judgement would result in condemnation, in hell. Yet, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). On the cross Jesus died for our sin. He took the punishment for our guilt. Now, through faith in him, we can be assured of forgiveness. We can know true peace. We can enjoy his friendship and care now, and we can have the confident expectation of receiving his love always. In 1 Corinthians we read, "Death has been swallowed up in victory; Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:54-55).