A guest post by a good friend Chick Yuill
Yes, I’ve been thinking it over while I’ve been out running in the sunshine. And now that I’m home and had time to think about it, I’ve decided to do it. Talk about the ‘D’ word, that is. By which I mean death and which is so often a taboo subject in polite company.
So please feel free to avert your gaze and read no further. Anyhow, to the subject in hand: death and dying.
Now I fully understand that it’s not something to be talking about all day every day. Life is wonderful and we should enjoy it and live it to the full. But, if we’re honest about it, the only certain thing for all of us who are alive in the world at this moment is that one day we’re gonna die.
Of course, I don’t think about it all the time, but I definitely think about it a little more now that I’m 73 than I did when I was 33. Tho’ better men than I am (and one man in particular who was much better than I am!) have died at that age.
The point is that all of us will die one day, and all of us need to come to terms with the fact of our mortality. And, tho’ like you I hope and pray that the number will be as low as possible in these coming weeks, some of us will die as a result of Covid-19. And, even if this particular virus had never emerged, some of us would still die in the next weeks, months or years. That, as they say ironically, is life.
The question is: how do we deal with this? Well, I think that most of us would agree that, however long or short it turns out to be, we should try to live well. Treat other people kindly, make our little bit of the world a better place because we’ve been here.
So far so good. But behind that, there lies another question, one that’s not so easy to answer: can we be prepared for death whenever it comes? In one sense, the answer is that we can never be completely prepared. It can, and often does, takes people by surprise. Most of us assume it definitely won’t happen today. On the whole that’s a pretty sensible approach. But many of us imagine it won’t happen to us at all and that we’ll be the exception. That’s not so sensible, because it will and we won’t, if you take my meaning.
But I think there’s another way in which we can and should be prepared. I once heard somebody describe it as ‘keeping short accounts’. By which I think they meant that we should deal with things right now. Don’t let them drift. So, if I’m carrying a grievance against someone, now is the time to let it go. If I need to say sorry to someone, now is the time to make that apology. If I need speak to someone, now is the time to make that call. If there’s something I’ve done wrong, now is the time to seek the forgiveness I need.
Now I’m aware that you could argue that, as a person of faith, I’m just making the case that we should clear the decks before we arrive at the pearly gates and have to give an account of ourselves to our Maker (tho’ that’s a terrible mixed metaphor for which I apologise!) But that’s not what I’m saying. I know this will come as a surprise to many people: the New Testament doesn’t actually say much at all about us going to heaven. Certainly nothing about meeting St Peter at the Pearly Gates which, to quote one of the great theologians, is a load of old cobblers. No, the New Testament is much more concerned with heaven coming to earth, with the whole creation being renewed. But that, as they say is a whole ‘nother story.
In case you hadn’t noticed it, I should admit that I’m a believer who’s convinced that the great sweeping narrative of the Bible – from the creation of the world, thro’ the corruption of human selfishness, God’s choice of a people to whom he reveals himself, the coming of Jesus, the birth of the church, to the consummation of all things in that great new creation which I’ve just mentioned – is the only story that makes sense of life and death. And without a BIG story that makes sense of things, it isn’t just our death that’s a puzzle. Life itself doesn’t have any ultimate meaning.
The point is not that I want to be good so that when I die I’ll get into heaven. In its most extreme form, that’s just pious escapism. No, the point is that all of us should live well so that we can live and die in a manner that means – with the grace and help of God and with the forgiveness he offers when we fall short or mess up – that we’ve fulfilled our role in God’s great cosmic plan to renew his creation. The new creation for which we were created. If I’ve got that right, then even my death will mean something in the end. Or, to be more precise, it will mean something when the curtain goes up on THE BIG SHOW, to which all of this will prove to have been a wonderful prelude.