(listen to the coffee shop version below)
Death is a nagging, lurking, soulless old enemy. And He gives us the willies!
The poet John Donne talked back with attitude: “Death be not proud!” He knew something that we should know.
Growing up we used odd names for the rooms in our drafty old New Englander. There was, of course, the kitchen and the living room. In between there was a room we called the Middle Room with an old potbelly stove. Off the kitchen was another little room called the Cold Room. It was unfinished, unheated and cluttered with things we had no use for that Dad refused to throw away.
I remember being afraid and fascinated by it at the same time.
Death is like that. We can’t ignore it, as much as we’d like to. So, we create this little place in our minds where it lurks, ready to pounce during the 6 O’clock news, after the death of someone we love or in our worst nightmares.
Even then we don’t talk about it. We listen to others talk about it.
The idea of “death talk” may seem a little morbid and not very much fun, but here’s the thing: it is one of our greatest fears and we don’t talk about it. Maybe it’s time we did.
A kind of death talk has made its way into our culture. A clumsy way to talk about death is to refer to “kicking the bucket,” a phrase which apparently originated from the practice of hanging someone by putting a noose around his neck, having him stand on a bucket and kicking the bucket away, resulting in death.
From that we get the “bucket list,” things you are determined to do before you die. That’s about as close as we come to talking about death.
My death inspiration was a crusty old retired truck driver named Roy; he was a wiry, little thin-man with one leg shorter than the other and one arm lame from a childhood bout with polio. His love in life, aside from his wife, was golf, and people used to gather to see him tee off with his one arm and shortened leg, play nine holes and score lower than most in his class.
As an older man Roy became a Christian, and when I met him he was a regular churchgoer and outspoken about his faith. He invited me to his home for coffee one morning to tell me that he had just been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, “Payback,” he said for all those years of smoking.
“Is there anything I can do,” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “You have a movie camera don’t you? (We had purchased a video camera to shoot family movies) When you come to visit me, I want you to turn it on so that everyone can watch me die.”
I remember being so shocked by the request, that I didn’t say anything.
As a pastor I’ve had the privilege of leading many funerals but none more memorable than that one. After five or six visits I had the videos edited into one that showed Roy’s decline toward death. Each visit he was thinner, his voice weaker, but his eyes were clear and his message was plain.
The Meaning of Death
Roy not only talked about death, he became death. The New Testament tells us that Jesus died for us so that we might become right with God. The crucifixion told a story that was not so much about death as about life.
The dread of death screams to us of the desire for life. It has us pleading with George Bailey, “I want to live! I want to live!”
Sure we have a hard time with death, but only when we don’t listen to what it is saying. That dread you feel going to the funeral, the hollow sound of the empty room that someone used to fill, the clothes that hang loose in the closet. Kind of like an empty tomb.
They all cry, “Live!”
Every death is an opportunity for you to seize life.
Live while you’re alive and, when faced with Death, seek the greater life that is eternal. By faith in Christ you can outlive death or, in the words of the poet, “Death, thou shalt die.”
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