Tag Archive | fear of death

The Final Enemy, DEATH, Is No More!

Matthew 28:1-10

If life has a way of killing dreams, Christ’s resurrection has a way of bringing them back to life.

Life has a way of killing dreams, doesn’t it? You set out with high hopes – for your schooling, your career, your family, and your golden years. You have plans, aspirations, and expectations. But things don’t always turn out the way you expected. Plans fall through. People let you down. You let yourself down. Suddenly the life you’re living isn’t the life you dreamed of at all; or you find yourself in a place you never expected to be.

But we can have hope.

Hope.  

What is hope, anyway? Wishful thinking? Naive optimism? “Hope it doesn’t rain,” we say. “Hope the sermon doesn’t go too long.” (That is wishful thinking!) Emily Dickinson tells us:

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all”.[1]

The dictionary tells us that hope is “a desire with the expectation of fulfillment.” So hope begins with a desire for something good, but then adds the element of expectation, of confidence. Without expectation, it’s just a wish. And wishes tend not to come true. When we hope for something, we’re counting on it.

But hope is more than a word – without it, we die. When a team loses hope, the game is over. When a patient loses hope, death is crouching at the door.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, survived years in the Nazi concentration camps. He noticed that prisoners died just after Christmas. They were hoping they’d be free by then. When they weren’t, they gave up. He learned that as long as prisoners had something to live for, a reason to press on, they could endure just about anything. But once they lost hope, they quickly died. Fyodor Dostoevsky said that “to live without hope is to cease to live.”

Bobby Knight has a different take on it. Bobby Knight is the legendary basketball coach who led the Indiana Hoosiers to three NCAA tournament finals; he was also famous for throwing chairs and chewing out officials, players, fans, and anyone in the vicinity. According to Bobby Knight, “hope” is the worst word in the English language. He says it’s foolish and lazy to tell yourself that “things are going to be all right.” They will only be all right if somebody steps up and does something.

Hope needs a reason. Something, or someone, that can get us to a better place. Without a reason, hope is just wishful thinking.

But for us, ‘hope is a who; hope is not a what, or a when, or a why. Hope is a “who.” Things don’t get better just because we want them to. They get better because somebody does something. Hope is always embodied in a person. Hope is a ‘who.” Somebody wise enough, strong enough, good enough, to get us to a better place.

And Jesus Christ is that someone. His resurrection proves that he is stronger than any setback, any failure, any loss, any disappointment – any fears. If life has a way of killing dreams, Jesus has a way of bringing them back to life.

That’s not to say we always get what we want, or that every bad thing can magically be un-done. Life doesn’t work that way. But it is to say that God can and will do something good with our future. Hope is the confidence that God can and will do something good. Hope is the confidence that God can and will do something good – in this life, and the life to come. Wherever you find yourself in this morning, whatever pain, loss, or disappointment you may be dealing with, God can do something good with it, or in it. That doesn’t minimize the pain or loss or evil of it. It simply means the story isn’t over yet.

In this life, we can find joy, beauty, forgiveness, healing, purpose, restoration, and the reality of God’s presence in our lives every day. In the life to come, we can look forward to reunion with those we have lost, the restoration of all creation, and to eternal life with God and one another in worlds beyond our imagining.

Hope isn’t wishful thinking – it’s confident living. It’s facing the future knowing that God can and will do something good, in this life, and the life to come.

Probably, the most unnerving thing in all our lives is the fear of death – we don’t what is going to happen, It is a fear that we will go into “nothingness’, a big black hole. What we are now and will become will disappear like dust in the wind.

We hope that it will be like Heaven, where we meet with our friends and family who have gone before us. That we will suffer no pain, have no disabilities, have no reason for weeping and mourning.

Fear of death is a morbid, abnormal or persistent fear of one’s own death or the process of dying; a “feeling of dread, apprehension or anxiety when one thinks of the process of dying, or ceasing to “be”.[2]

It’s a fear that somehow we will die before we have reached our hopes and dreams. . . that we will leave things unfinished. It can be irrational and often debilitating, keeping us from achieving our hopes and dreams.

But by Jesus” crucifixion and resurrection He conquered the most fearful thing of all – DEATH.

We have been promised by Jesus:

And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am. (John 14:3)

Death can no longer hold us in constant fear!

If you should find yourself in a tough place right now, have the courage to stay in that place and invite Christ to meet you there. If you know who’s dealing with pain, disappointment, or loss – share hope with them. Ask them how they’re doing. Listen to them. Be with them. Pray for them. And when the time is right, point them toward the resurrected Jesus. Because life has a way of killing dreams, but Jesus has a way of bringing them,

and us,

back to life!

Phillip Brook wrote his “Easter Carol” reminding us that death is no longer:

Tomb, You shall not hold Him longer,
Death is strong, but life is stronger
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right;
Faith and hope triumphant say;
Christ will rise on Easter Day.

While the patient earth lies waiting
Till the morning shall be breaking
Shuddering beneath the burden dread
Of her Master, cold and dead,
Hark! she hears the angels say;
Christ will rise on Easter Day.

And when sunrise smites the mountains
Pouring light from heavenly fountains
Then the earth blooms out to greet
Once again the blessed feet;
And her countless voices say;
Christ has risen on Easter Day.”.[3]

Jesus Christ is the death of Death!

Let us rejoice and be glad!

Amen
 
 
[1] Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers”, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)
[2] Farley G.: Death anxiety. National Health Service UK. 2010, found in: Peters L, Cant R, Payne S, O’Connor M, McDermott F, Hood K, Morphet J, Shimoinaba K. (2013).
[3] Phillips Brook, “The Easter Carol”, Christmas Songs and Easter Carols (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1903)

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 16 April 2017

Death Does NOT Win

Luke 7:11-17

The scriptures we heard today tell sad and remarkably similar stories – of a widow losing her son to death; and of the prophet Elijah, and later, Jesus restoring these two sons back to life.

To Biblical scholars, this is seen as one of many attempts to depict Jesus as a fulfillment of ancient scriptural prophecies – as the ‘new Elijah’ or the Messiah, foretold in the ancient Torah.

For New Testament scholars, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain takes its place with the two other stories of Jesus restoring life to those taken by death. In Matthew 9:18-26, Jesus returned Jairus’ daughter to the living. A president of the local Galilean synagogue, Jairus probably felt threatened by teachings and works of Jesus, but nevertheless, faced by Jesus’ powerful presence, asked his daughter be restored to life. Jesus felt compassion for this father and immediately went to his house and restored the life of the little girl. In an even more famous story told in John 11:1-44, Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha and Jesus beloved friend, was raised from the dead by Jesus before a large and awestruck crowd.

There are many levels upon which we can learn from these stories: theologically, culturally, and individually. One could expound for hours on their implications – indeed, countless books have been written that do so– but, today, let me examine a few.

The woman of Nain is referred to as a ‘widow’. Not only was this poor woman mourning the death of her only son, but she now was all alone in a society that did not have provisions for the care of widows. There was no one left to care for her in her old age; no welfare or assistance available for widows like her. It was up to a woman’s children, especially her sons, to see that she was cared for. But, she has no one left! She is all alone, helpless and caught in a desperate situation. She has nothing to look forward to except poverty and despair. She is at the mercy of others people’s kindness. She has nowhere to go and nowhere to turn. She finds herself trapped in a helpless condition. Widows were the lowliest of the lowly.

widow of nainAs Jesus looked upon this woman, He saw that all her hope was gone, a woman who not only was having to grieve without family at the death of her son, but also being judged by her own society and people. Jesus told her not to weep because He was about to turn her tears into celebration at the return of her son.

In each of these stories, Jesus speaks to the person – He speaks and life emerges where there was death. This is just one of the examples of His works and teachings that turned the world upside down, countering everything that man thought they knew and believed; that, in fact, the least can be the greatest, the lowliest are indeed powerful, the sick and suffering can find wellness and healing, the poor and outcast can find hope and acceptance.

Conversely, Jesus taught us that many of the things for which we strive: power, wealth, possessions, knowledge, titles and accolades are fleeting, finite, and mutable.

These stories also teach us that Jesus and His ‘way’, the thinking and life values that He taught and represented, also turn the world upside down. That our deep and paralyzing fear of death, drives us to hurtful behaviors that generate greed, arrogance, vengeance, pride, envy and judgment.

Yes, in reality and on a daily basis, we are afraid. Motivated by our fear of death, we strive to make our mark on our earthly life, because we fear ‘that this is all there is’. We fear one of the harsh truths of life:

death is still death.

One day, you will die.

YOU will die. I will die.

Our friends and our family, our neighbors – everybody you know will die.

They are all going to die. Sooner or later.

It doesn’t matter how clever we are,

It doesn’t matter how wealthy we are,

It doesn’t matter how many important people we know… everybody dies.

Death is a painful reality of life.

But Jesus assures us

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)

He also lovingly scolds us:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2)

These are the promise God gives every human being, and God proved that promise in the life, death and resurrection of his Son, our brother, Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds us

“don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

This is the life-transforming and world-changing message of these biblical stories we have heard today, and of the life of Jesus. That in following in His way, His values, and living by His examples, we will grow to understand and truly believe, to the core of our being, that

DEATH IS NOT THE END!

That Jesus is indeed, ‘God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God’;

  • if we follow His way, embrace the values of love, inclusion, forgiveness, and service that He taught;
  • if we live our lives on earth with humility, compassion, mercy and hope,

we will gain the reassuring understanding that death is only a door to new life.

Because He lived as we have lived,

and died as we must,

that we shall live again as He does.

Whether the end of our lives is by crucifixion, torture, war, cancer, body-crippling diseases, accidents, or old age

DEATH IS NOT THE END!

This is the life-giving hope, this is why we can be joyful and fear no more.

We are free.

This is the good news that we must tell to everyone.

Alleluia!

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Worthington Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH; 5 June 2016