In a lecture to the Ph.D candidates, the Dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School said that we appreciate our parents more as we age because they are on the front line in the battle with death. As long as they are still alive, we feel that it is not our turn yet. In the case of our family, my parents have died and so my three sisters and I are now on the front line of the battle with death.
Early this spring, my sister had a stroke. For a few days, the battle was very intense. She came home from the hospital, but it has been a slow recovery. When the stroke happened, another of my sisters and I were away in Eastern Europe and there was little communication between us and her family in the state of Washington. Our other sister and the nieces drove to the hospital to be by her side. While they were visiting, someone shockingly announced that if she had not come in when she did, she could have died. Death came knocking at our door!
That thundering statement “If s/he did not come in when they did, they could have died” has been circling our family for years. More than a decade ago, our youngest sister was involved in a car accident and immobilized for close to a year as a result. The consequences were many—broken bones that didn’t heal well, constant pain, and difficultly walking. About 5 years ago, another sister had breast cancer. While she is healed of the cancer, her kidneys were affected by the radiation and she has minimum kidney function.
I am not immune either. One evening, I felt that my heart was not working well. I foolishly drove myself to the hospital only to be told that if I had waited a few more hours, I might have had a heart attack and died. The foolish part was that I drove myself to the hospital, thinking the wise thing was to get there and get checked out!
In the Christian understanding of life, all of us will die unless Christ returns first. Death is unavoidable. The author of Hebrews tells us that we should look to the way our leaders finish their journeys here on earth and then adds the words “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.” In another place, we read that death will be the last enemy defeated by God, at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
In view of death’s inevitability, how we live our lives is of the utmost importance. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has taken away the fear of death. In his well-known poem Death Be Not Proud, John Donne writes,
Death be not proud, thought some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so
For, those, who thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, not yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie,
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
In the passing of time, one of the four siblings will die first. We do not know who it will be. The four of us range in age from 58 to 68. We do not know if death will go chronologically and start with the first born or take the odd or even numbers first. We do know that conquering death is within the permissive will of God and that the death of the saints is precious in His sight. With the Apostle Paul, we can say that in life or in death, we belong to Jesus. Death will be the end of our journey here on earth, but it will also be the transport of our souls into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed us to be His forevermore.