Category Archives: death

rage, rage

[or, ‘Reflections on Death #2]

I’m preaching on Luke 7:11ff this week. It is striking the reaction that Jesus has towards the widow and her plight, losing her only son to the great thief of Death.

Her grief (which prompts his reaction of compassion) reminded me of one of my favourite poems, written on death, by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
age, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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reflections on death #1

I have been continuing to reflect on the idea that people have a fear of death, and that this fear is translated into some sort of idol worship, with the object of trying to minimise or distract from this fear. That observation gels with someone thing I read somewhere once, that whatever worldview you end up adopting, it needs to offer some sort of explanation for the 2 big realities of death and suffering.

I found a book in my local library today: Poems and Readings for Funerals, edited by Julia Watson (London: Penguin, 2004). It consists of just that – classic poems and items, all dealing in one way or another with death. It is fascinating to see the broad spectrum of responses to the unescapable reality of death. I thought I might share them here over the next few weeks or so.

The first reflection: denial.

‘Death is nothing at all.’

Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away
into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way
that you always used. Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of
solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was, let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same that it ever was; there is unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.

All is well.

Henry Scott Holland (1847-1928) [page 7]

But this doesn’t explain the sense of loss that gives rise to grief at all, does it?

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I have recently finished Peter Bolt’s Living With the Underworld. We did it as part of the Digging Deeper Bookclub at St Paul’s.

I have had a good time reading and discussing this with others, both online and at a discussion group we ran at my place.

One of the things that struck me about the book was the observation about how the fear of death lies at the basis of most human anxiety and behaviour. It is an extended discussion, but here’s a taste:

Now it all comes together! Because of our sin, the world lies under the sentence of death, a sentence we carry around with us in our mortal flesh. This causes a profound disruptive anxiety, a fear of death, that may be expressed in different ways, and masked in different ways, but is always there. This fear of death makes us long for security, for something that will calm our fears. We are security-seeking missles, and this opens us up to believe the lies of the devil, who tells us that our security is to be found in the things of this world. And, of course, these are all his to give, because this world belongs to him. At that point, our fear of death has taken us to exactly where the master of the underworld wants us: we are his slaves.

Peter Bolt, Living With the Underworld Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2007, 98-99.

I reckon he’s right. After I read this, I began looking around for signs of confirmation. And found one in the most bizarre place – the children’s wear department of a local department store. We were looking for clothes for the boys, and I noticed that most of the shirts are covered in skulls. Shirts for 4 year olds, covered in the symbol of death!! What’s going on with that?!

Of course, the designers will print stuff that they think, boy will think is ‘cool’. But I wonder whether the attempt to make death ‘cool’ is just another way of trying to avoid the anxiety that it provokes in us? And why not start that process at a young age?

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a timely reminder

This morning, I attended the funeral of a young lady, aged 22.

Nearly 500 people packed the building to pay their last respects. We heard stories of artistic talent, a love of music, and infectious smile. All cut way way too short.

It was a sobering reminder of the reality and crushing nature of death. It comes, it comes, it comes.

I found myself thinking of God’s thoughts on death in 1 Cor 15: 54-57:

54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55″Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

My prayers are with that family – I pray they will know the hope of the resurrection of Jesus.,23599,23131143-1242,00.html

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total depravity

Sometimes when I read the papers, I just want to weep. I have 2 kids of my own, and they are a precious gift from God. I am well aware of the challenges of children with special needs. But I cannot fathom the heart that is capable of this:

Girl prisoner’s ‘torture’
from The Sydney Morning Herald News Headlines
Court papers reveal seven-year-old NSW girl’s “slow and torturous” death by starvation.

I read the details, and I want to be sick. I am filled with outrage. How can a human being do such a thing to another, essentially defenceless child? How do you go out at night, or sit down in front of the television, knowing that you have locked a little girl in a room for weeks on end with no food?

There are no answers to that question, it seems to me. No answers except revelation:

Rom 1:28-29 28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.

Some people have suggested that we Anglicans spend too much time talking about sin. My response is, how can you not, when this is what we read in the papers? We need to be real, talk about the world the way it really is. Only then can we fully fathom the real hope that is ours in the Gospel – that Jesus has stared this depravity full in the face, and defeated it, its lord and its enslaving power.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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death in the papers

Is it just me, or has death been getting a particular run in the papers of late? It has struck me as I flick through the headlines how random and unforgiving death is. Consider the following headlines from the SMH:

Seven dead as lift plummets 34 floors
Elevator in eastern China drops 100 metres, killing seven construction workers.

Family watch deadly exorcism ritual
22-year-old mother of two drowns in her lounge as up to 40 relatives watch.

Boy, 6, killed by mystery sea beast
Boy dies after being stung by an unidentified creature off the Tiwi Islands.

Man dies during cockatoo rescue
58-year-old falls 12 metres trying to retrieve neighbour’s pet bird from tree.

Christmas party’s deadly dim sim
A 25-year-old woman dies after a violent reaction to eating a dim sim.

We normally hear about disasters and things, but more and more we are hearing about these bizarre or unusual stories of people meeting their end.

It serves to reinforce both the fallenness of this world and the finality of death that can strike at any moment, to any one, at any time.

Praise be to our Father that Jesus has taken on death and beaten it, that though it remains a formidable enemy to those who know him, yet it is beaten and holds no final power.

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It’s been a sobering week or so.

Last week, I presided over the funeral of a man who died at age 98.5. He had outlived all of his friends. His funeral was attended by a handful of family, who heard the 1662 Anglican Prayer funeral service’s take on life:

Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins are justly displeased?

This week, I presided over the funeral of a baby who died at 28 weeks in the womb. We read from 1 Cor 15 which seemed so apt in that situation:

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.

And yesterday, I celebrated a birthday. In the midst of everything else that is happening, I was reminded of Psalm 90:

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Praise be to the Lamb who was slain, who has conquered death in his glorious resurrection, and filled our hearts with hope and longing for the New Jerusalem and unending fellowship with each other and with God himself.

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