The Other Side of Death
Do this, in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:13)
It’s rare to find a person who fully accepts the fact of their own death. Most of us spend life trying to deny it’s end, pretending we don’t know the truth that’s closest to us, while reveling in the knowledge of distant and meaningless things.
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Stuff close to home is harder to think about than details that send us off into some other world. Death is where we live, it can’t be avoided, but it’s undeniable presence feels impossible to deal with.
Whatever aversion we feel when asked to consider death isn’t unique to our time or society – it was surely felt by Jesus’ friends, on the other side of the world, 2,000 years ago. Depending on how you count the stories, there are about 10 episodes in the gospels, where Jesus tells people he’s going to die. And man, his crew does not want to hear it.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ (Matthew 16:22)
But of course it was going to happen.
Wise counselors have always taught that meditation on life’s end helps to clarify the beauty, meaning and purpose of the days we have left, whatever their number. That’s true, and I know that if I really took it to heart, I’d give myself over to stress about mundane stupidity far less often than I actually do.
Jesus’ example in this respect, though, is more than peaceful acceptance of life’s finitude. His life would end not in contented old age, but as a dream cut short, with betrayal, abandonment, mockery and brutality. Jesus didn’t just die; he was killed. Death is not evil; what happened to Jesus was evil.
How was he able to face all that, to see it before it happened, and not jump into distraction and denial, the way I do whenever something scary announces it’s inevitable approach to me?
I don’t know. There’s always a supernatural quality to courage – it defies explanation to a great degree. But I sense that part of why Jesus did not falter in the face of death, even a horrific death, is that he looked past the end.
When he contemplated his final breath, there was more on his mind than the quality of his remaining days, or even his own personal, heavenly future. He was thinking about the people and the world that would live on, after he had left the earth. Certainly that meant those who had heard his voice and looked him in the eyes, but mostly it was the people they would tell about the kingdom, and those people’s children, and the children of those people’s children.
Faith says he was thinking all the way forward to you and me, and to those who come after us.
At the last supper, Jesus shared bread and cup and said, “Do this, in remembrance of me.” He anticipated the days after his death, and the lives his hearers would lead, without him saying the prayers at dinner. So he told them, when I’m gone, do this. Be like this. Just as we lived in Galilee, just as we gather as guests in a stranger’s home. Welcome. Share. Nourish. Commune. In remembrance.
People often ask, “Do you believe in life after death?” A different way of framing the question would be to ask ourselves, “Do I believe in the life of others, after my own death?” Can I see forward in time, and contemplate the lives of those I leave behind, the communities that will nurture other people’s children when I’m gone, and the world, whose resources I’ll no longer use, but which must still provide for generations yet to live?
To follow Jesus is to think this way: to love fully, without allowing fear of death to shroud our vision for the world God is still bringing to bear.
The Gospel of John says of Jesus, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (16:1) It was an ending like dusk, which the wise one knows is part of a story that continues.
God bless you friends! Pastor Rob Leveridge