A difficult week, as my mother slowly dies. Sadly we received the phone call in the early hours of this morning, asking us to come in.
It was way back in February my sister and I made the reluctant decision that our 94-year-old mother needed residential care and on the very day of her sister’s funeral she moved into Woolston Hey in Waterloo, just 600 yards from the family home.
She very soon settled there, not least because her bedroom has a truly magnificent view over the Mersey estuary, the view I grew up playing on the beach.
And now her various cancers have finally taken her life, not easy for those of us who love her and have taken turns in taking vigil.
For death is no friend, to be embraced or welcomed. Nor one to be mocked, as in Eric Idle’s sing-along “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Neither can death be ignored. I guess for many people death is the elephant in the room. We know it is there but do our very best to walk round it.
No, death is our enemy, our most feared foe. But an enemy whose days are numbered.
As the apostle Paul writes “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26). But for the Christian there is no need to make a truce or to accept death as the final word – for the simple reason that it is going to be destroyed by the victorious Christ.
So we need to place our lives in his nail-scarred hands. “He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. (Philippians 3:21 New Living Translation)
Mum came back to her teenage faith through doing the Alpha course (twice) at St John’s Waterloo and since then has been hugely encouraged by the NSM vicar, Alan Brooks, who over recent years led a Bible study group in her house. She is secure in Christ.
It is John Donne, confident in this security, who can look death straight in the face and in his Holy Sonnet X pronounce: “Death, thou shalt die!”
For the Christian, the person united to Christ in his death, is assured of being united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). How God is going to do this, he alone knows. That he is going to do this makes all the difference.
With this confidence, we can make preparation.
I was struck by the lyrics of Matt Redmond’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)” having an almost Victorian feel in preparing for the inevitability of our own death:
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then for evermore
As I would sit at my mother’s side, watching her fight with her every breath, I could look up and see the familiar horizon at the Liverpool bar, a view which has always held my imagination. A sense of the unknown, with new worlds beyond our sight to be discovered.
Life is eternal; and love is immortal;
and death is only a horizon;
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.
(Rossiter W. Raymond)