Tag Archives: death

A funeral for Jesus

Death is hard to grasp.  Our mind recoils at it, and sometimes denies it.  When someone we love dies, part of us can go on believing that it isn’t true.  Even when we’ve seen someone die with our own eyes, we can still be in denial.

One of the ways we come to terms with death is by ritualizing the ending of someone’s life.  We get together in groups and perform certain actions and say certain words when someone dies.  We call this a funeral.  The funeral is not “for” the dead person, as much as it is “for” the people left behind, to help them acknowledge that death has happened.

Tomorrow, our Good Friday service is structured as a funeral for Jesus.  Of course, when Jesus died, there was no funeral. He had been executed by the state, his body was hurriedly buried by a few friends, anxious to finish preparations for burial before the Sabbath.

I’ve structured the service in this way because a funeral ritual is the way in our culture we come to terms with death.   Perhaps by following this form, we can come to a deeper understanding of what happened on Good Friday.  What were his friends, his family feeling or thinking the day he died?  How were they making sense of what happened?

Today, of course, when someone dies, we take great comfort in the resurrection, and that Jesus conquered death.  But for those friends mourning Jesus’ death, there was no such comfort.  Their hopes and dreams seem shattered.  They would have felt shell-shocked (although that word had not been invented yet) by watching their friend be tortured and die a gruesome death.

Good Friday is a time to face death and look it squarely in the eye.  That’s what Jesus did.  Join us in our service this year, to enter into this holy time of passion.

This week’s prayer:  (a verse from the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”  a hymn whose words are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153)

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

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Death wish

John Boswell, a great writer in the 1700’s famously said, “To know one will die in a fortnight marvellously clarifies the mind.”  Looking at death can clarify our thinking about life.  What is life about?  What is essential?  Where is God in my life and my death?

When I worked as a chaplain in a Catholic hospital, I met many people who regularly said a prayer called the Rosary, where they ask Mary to “pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death.”  At first I thought that was a very morbid prayer;  it’s a prayer that is said many many times, and I wondered how helpful it is to be thinking about the hour of your death all the time.  But after seeing that prayer at work in the lives of many faithful people, I’ve changed my mind.

I remember being with an elderly woman who was dying; we were waiting for her family to arrive, but she was fading fast. In fact, she died before her family got there.    I had a chance later to talk to the daughter as she sat with the body of her mother.  She felt so sad that she had not been there, and that her mother had died “alone”.  I asked her whether her mother had said the Rosary. “Yes, she said that every day.”  “Well, your mother prayed every day, thinking about the hour of her death…and this was it…this was the hour of her death.  I know God was here with her in that hour.”   This was something the daughter could hold onto…her mother had prepared well for the hour of her death.

This week is Eternity Sunday, the day we remember people who have died.  How do we prepare for death? What kind of death do you wish for?  How does thinking about death change the way we live now?

This week’s prayer:  In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

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