My social worker colleague Sue was to accompany the police as they broke into the house of an old lady not seen for days. She clearly was very nervous and so I offered to go with her. As the young police officer raised his truncheon to break open the front door, Sue suddenly explained that she had never seen a dead body before. He stopped and turned round: “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a dead body!”
I know what he meant, for so many people in our society, especially young people, death is far removed, not just a frightening but a totally unknown experience. And we use a whole variety of strategies to avoid its reality.
Only this week I was reading documentation from an insurance company for bereaved relatives, whose loved one had “passed away.” The same euphemism was used each time.
“I am not afraid of death,” speaks Woody Allen for our generation. “ I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
This week Jacqui and I have been sitting with her much-loved Auntie Rita in her final hours at Springfield Court Nursing Home. It is a humbling experience, for this truly is a holy time. We reflect on her long life and pray together with her. At least Jacqui has the patience I clearly lack. And we can thank God for Rita’s faith in the living Christ.
But death, however peaceful and gentle, is always an enemy, even when masquerading as a friend. One, however, whose days are numbered. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” writes the apostle Paul with the confidence of one whose future is secure (1 Corinthians 15:26).
This very morning 70 years ago those planes taking part in the Dam Buster raid returned to base. No less than 53 of the 133 aircrew who participated in this attack were killed. It took Wing Commander Gibson three days to complete the telegrams and follow-up letters. Death for him, for them was a constant and continuing reality.
Auntie Rita belonged to this generation; her house in Hornby Road was bombed. She would often talk about how her mother stood watching their family home burn with all their possessions and thanked God that her whole family was safe.
For it is in this kind of situation you see what is important and what is trivial. Simple as that. But a lesson which eludes most of us, distracted by the mundane cares of everyday life.
For what counts are our relationships, especially our family and friends. And facing the finality of death, what counts above all is that relationship offered to us by the God who in Jesus chose death for us, even death on a Roman cross.
Now, the good news is that the living Christ promises us a share in his victory, a place in God’s new creation.
How he is going to do it? Who knows, except to say that God is God. And as Paul explains to the Corinthians, you can’t work out simply by looking at a seed or grain what the final outcome will be, so neither can we as we look on our frail mortal bodies.
So as Paul reaches his conclusion; notice the “but” of God’s grace.
“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57).