Friday, April 20, 2007

Death and Resurrection

Having recently performed the funeral of a dear friend and now watching another suffer with inoperable cancer, the subject of death has been frequently on my mind. The current issue of Christianity Today has an article by Dennis Ngien called "Picture Christ" that I found especially helpful. Ngien interacts with Martin Luther's "A Sermon on Preparing to Die" in which Luther identifies three ways in which the devil tries to use death to undermine a believer's faith. One way is to remind us that death is ultimately a sign of God's wrath toward sinners. Luther wrote:
In that way, [the devil] fills our foolish human nature with the dread of death while cultivating a love and concern for life, so that burdened with such thoughts man forgets God, flees and abhors death, and thus, in the end, is and remains disobedient to God.
Ngien explains:
Luther's remedy for this first temptation is to contemplate death all the more, but to do so at the right time—which is not the time of death. Instead, he exhorts us to "invite death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move"—that is, in our daily lives long before death threatens us. Conversely, Luther counsels Christians to banish thoughts of death at the final hour and to use that time to meditate on life.
Luther's advice brought to mind a gathering of high school students I attended years ago in which the youth pastor asked how many of them had never attended a funeral. I was stunned by the number of hands raised. By the time I was their age I had been to a number of funerals and wakes. And, if my memory serves me correctly, at least one visitation service took place in a home! I'm sure many parents think they're doing their children a service by shielding them from the reality and pain of death but regardless of our good intentions we should consider whether what we're really doing is depriving them (not to mention ourselves) of opportunities to gain wisdom. "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting," the Preacher wrote, "for this is the end of mankind, and the living will lay it to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Of course, the Christian contemplates death in light of Christ's resurrection and the resurrection of the righteous upon His return. This doctrine has taken on greater significance and become brighter to my mind's eye as I miss one brother and will soon be missing another. My yearning for the redemption of our bodies was recently stirred by two messages given by N. T. Wright last month at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Virginia. A friend to whom I had recommended Michael Wittmer's book Heaven is a Place on Earth, thought I might enjoy hearing Wright's talks and sent me the links. I listened and loved what I heard! One line I found particularly memorable is, "Heaven is a wonderful place but it's not the end of the world." Wright's point is that the end of Christ's redemptive work is the restoration and renewal of creation, not liberation from it. I think he's correct in claiming that this biblical emphasis often escapes our thinking and consequently does not impact our individual and corporate life as it should. For those who'd like to listen, here are the links:

Resurrection and the Future World

Resurrection and the Task of the Church

1 comment:

Jeff Burton said...

I try to contemplate death as much as I can stand it. People recoil when I talk to them about it. Another very counter-cultural way of thinking.