In the Book of Common Prayer we find these powerful words: In the midst of life we are in death.
We are mistaken if we think that “literal death” is the only kind of death. Time and time again in the bible we see that “death” is not merely the cessation of mortal life, but also a “power” that insinuates itself into the living of our days.
As we continue in this lenten season, moving toward an ‘early Easter” this month on March 27, it is good to be reminded that Lent is the season that invites us to consider the places in our lives that are dead.
What is threatened by death, the “power” that strikes fear into our hearts and causes us to feel insecure? What is the connection between death and life? Isn’t the Easter message the implausible message that death has been overcome in Jesus the Christ? What does this mean for us today? How exactly are we to be “Easter people?” What part of us is awaiting new life? What is waiting to be born in us? How do we conduct ourselves as an Easter people, filled with hope, when all around us we are “in death,” as the world asserts its domination power, even daring to come into our midst in the church?
In what ways has “power of death” had touched us. What is dead in our relationships, in our church, in our society? What is dead within us, where we once had life?
This kind of self-examination is never easy, but self-examination is one of the cardinal Christian virtues. It is painful to acknowledge death and the denial of death is strong within us. But the attempt to “evade” or avoid death is futile. The best approach is to acknowledge the power of death, but to not be afraid or anxious. We can only accomplish this by placing our complete trust in God, the One who raises the dead..
As I write these words, I am aware that our church faces serious financial issues. Many of our members are concerned about the survival of the church. Some have observed the plight of other churches in our area and in our denomination and others in the “mainline.” Some of our Roman Catholic friends have seen their churches shuttered and closed. How can it be possible that a church dies? Isn’t that highly ironic, that the place where the Easter message of resurrection and hope is safeguarded has closed its doors? Has “death” triumphed after all?
Here is what I think: The Church itself is a momento mori, an object serving as a reminder of death. We may be familiar with this Latin term from Shakespeare and other writers, who often employed a skull or “death’s head” as a warning or reminder of death, inviting reflection on our own mortality. Momento mori—remember that you must die!
In 2 Corinthians 6: 7-9, St Paul says that a healthy Church is dying all the time. Its outward being constantly wastes away, whilst imperceptibly its inner life is being renewed by is the spirit. It lives –
by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things
St. Paul says death is at work in the apostolic community, and by extension to the community of Church in the Highlands; it is by that process that life is somehow made available to those it serves.
The message of the gospel is clear: Remember death but do not fear it. Its power is limited, not absolute, and it too will die. Yes, church, we will all die, and yet we are alive. So carpe diem, seize the day! Make your lives, and your church, extraordinary, in the days that you have on this good earth!
Jesus put it this way: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
Happy, blessed Easter!