This past week I have been thinking a lot about death. It’s probably a function of being a priest, but death is ever a part of my journey. Many days I can avoid thinking about it. But I imagine that is not really what God wants. Just to prove the point, I find that deaths usually come in threes. No one can avoid thinking about death when they come in threes.
That was the case last week. Within 24 hours, a parishioner, a family member, and an acquaintance all died. The parishioner was retired but was living a full life. She went in to check on some pain and within four months she was gone. The family member was much older. She had lived a full life and the journey toward death took a long time. We were sad, but ready. The acquaintance was around my age and had three kids at the same nursery school one of my daughters attends. She got sick and within a week died. Three children. My age.
That’s the funny thing about death. We can pretend it happens only to old people (which we never are – even when we are). We can pretend it is far away and will come when we are fully prepared and ready to join our God. We can pretend that death is non-existent. But we know that is all pretend. We know that pretending is just our way of masking how scary death is. For those of us who believe in eternal life, we like to say that life is changed, not ended. But that is what we say about others. I wonder how much we can proclaim it for ourselves.
One of my favorite songs from the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” soundtrack is called “O Death.” In the song, the artist sings, “O, death, won’t you spare me over til another year.” The singer’s voice is haunting. And while there is a part of us that knows we should not fear death, there is something in that song’s words that resonates with us. We want one more year. One more decade. One more lifetime.
And yet death comes. Sometimes death comes within a week – within a day. I wonder what you would do differently with your life if you were willing to let that reality slip over you. What has God been calling you to do that you have been avoiding? What have you been meaning to say to someone that you don’t say because you are afraid? Does the reality of death make you want to move? Though the questions are heavy, as is the topic, I think there is freedom in the questions too. We can let go of all that is weighing us down and start living. The promise of earthly death is a blessing – one that frees us to live this life with abundance, grace, and joy. How will you start living into that joy today?