At the end of last week, my new niece was born.
Last Saturday, Eric and Rebecca became one flesh.
Last night, my Great Grandmother died at 93.
My earliest memories of her are of Christmas when we’d go over to her assisted living apartment. She was elderly, no doubt, but vibrant. I played under her tree with a train set. She always smiled and was soft and tender. I took a half day yesterday to see her for what I knew would be the last time. She was in a coma of sorts, and they couldn’t give her water. She would choke if it was administered orally, and her system couldn’t process it through her blood. I saw a shell of a human being, at the very end.
“The very end.” I can expound all day about how I don’t believe that. But, in all frankness, death still scares me. It comes naturally to live here, plant roots in this life. It is comfortable to put trust in what I see and feel. It makes sense to make for myself a life of stability and joy here. And yet, try as I might, I will never be further from that ideal than at the end, after all my strength has shriveled up. My bones will be weak, my muscles tired, and my mind frail. In a strain for autonomy I will have only accomplished my own total dependence. It’s like something Alanis Morissette would have written about if she had looked up the definition of the word “ironic” in the dictionary before she wrote her song. There’s a song called, “When in Rome” and the last stanza goes like this…
Where can a dead man go
The question with an answer only dead men know
But I’m gonna bet they never really feel at home
If they spent a lifetime learning
How to live in Rome
There’s some truth in this. If we spend our efforts learning how to fit in here, how to live and grow and be safe and happy in this world, it seems obvious that death will be terrifying. But Christ calls us to do something we don’t think of intuitively. We are to put our hearts in a place we’ve never been to. We’re to trust in a Being we’ve never seen. No wonder the gospel seems foolishness. And yet, considering the finality of death, anything in this life seems futile. If there is no after-death, this life is futility. If there is an after-death to put our trust to, we haven’t seen it or know anything of it. And so each man finds himself in between a rock and a chasm… and the ground he’s on is quickly crumbling. It is to this context that the gospel comes.
To abandon this life is to live.