Today, the world over, Christians remember the death of their Savior, Jesus Christ. We take part in various remembrances, some elaborate and some simple, even Puritan. Regardless, many of us will participate in some service of remembrance and express our thanks to God for the gift of his Son.
I have participated in many different death rituals in various countries and cultures. The most unusual was in India. I will never get over what transpired on my second extended trip there in the 1980s. One of the leaders of the mission we worked with had come to meet us at the airport, a drive of about four hours or more. His van had run into the back of a large truck, stopped in the middle of the road in typical Indian fashion. He had been thrown forward off the back seat (where he was sleeping) and was internally injured and died after some hours of suffering by the side of the highway with no medical help. Our team picked up his body late in the evening, drove for hours to the town where we were to lodge and the next day, a Sunday, I did a funeral. We marched through town with the body and sang songs of Christian faith while the people watched us in some degree of astonishment, or so it seemed to me. The whole experience is rather surreal to me and yet I remember it as if it was just yesterday. Mourners were connected to their grief in open and tangible ways that shocked my Western understanding.
Our culture places little or no importance on funeral rituals and their importance. We want to get it over and done with so we can act as if death is not really the end. It is like a big denial of the awful reality of the grim reaper. We isolate the dying and rush through arrangements once the finality of it all sets in on us.
In our cultural context we have little real understanding and appreciation for the rich and amazing biblical texts that explain Christ’s death. We do not know how to grieve the death of the person we profess to love more than all other people. One has noted that because of this we consequently find ourselves too apathetic to the resurrection. But death should neither be ignored nor celebrated. I know that will not go down quite right with some Christians, especially since many of us were taught from childhood that the day Jesus died was a great day!
I remind you death is an enemy. It was such for Jesus on this day. His death, even more than yours and mine, was because of sin, not his but the sins of the world. The awful foe got his grips on him that day and broke him. The only problem was that by his death he broke the power of the foe. This we can celebrate but this is the result of the resurrection more than the death.
Alexander McLaren said, “The grave is in the garden because all our joys and works have sooner or later death associated with them. Every relationship. Every occupation. Every joy. The grave in the garden bids us bring the wholesome contemplation of death into all life. It may be a harm, a weakening to think of it; but it should be a strength.”
My dear friend Jim Packer puts it well: “We can face death knowing that when it comes we shall not find ourselves alone. He has been there before us, and he will see us through.” Amen.
May Good Friday be good for you because you come to his death in faith and hope knowing that by his stripes you are healed for here your sins are covered once and for all.
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Thanks John. Good words. Good Friday.