Experiencing the death of a loved one is tragic, no matter how sterile institutions like hospitals and funeral homes try to make them. The advances in medication and post-mortem procedures try to soften, in the best way they know how, the sting of death in the hearts of those associated with the event. But one could make an argument that many times modern medicine doesn’t afford the departing lasting words to those they are leaving behind. Modern medicine has inadvertently, it seems, shuffled the issue of death quietly to the corner of the room (and this writer thinks to the robbing of an enormous healing process graciously given by God to the grieving). But that’s not the point of why I am writing.
There’s another sterilization of death that I want to mention. It’s the sterilization of “last wishes.” More particularly I am speaking of the last wishes of the dying for the ones they are leaving behind to “go about their business” and “have no memorial service” once death has come. This final move is an act of mercy, or so it seems. There are a few reasons why the Scriptures would suggest that this is not really an act of mercy, but a masking of the issue, and a robbing of those left behind one of the most pungent experiences in their life to make them reflect on their own death, and the great conqueror of death.
1. Jesus talked more about death/hell (and the love of money) more than any other topic in His earthly ministry. The gospels are a solid account of this. If humanity’s unavoidable appointment with death was at the forefront of the Messiah’s mind, is it wise to shuffle it to the corner, or “have no memorial?”
2. Jesus put human death on public display in all of its sorrow, brokenness, helplessness, and horror. He hung publicly, naked, bloodied, bruised and shamed for six hours for all of humanity to see. Ever been to a funeral like that? Men removed spikes from His hands and feet by prying and striking with a hammer. They took His bloodied body off the cross and carried it to a tomb. Women prepared the body with spices. They handled death. Let me repeat that. They handled death. They handled death. They touched it. They smelled it. It was like the full force of a freight train running over their senses. And they reflected as they walked back home. They reflected as they washed their blood soaked hands and scrubbed their blood stained clothes. If the death of Jesus was put on public display as a reminder for all of humanity of our ultimate appointment, is it wise to shuffle this occasion in the corner, and “have no memorial?”
3. Related to the second point, for those who would have attended it would have extended a flesh and blood witness to death. It’s interesting that death is all around in movies, television shows, clothing (skull and crossbones), etc. We are entertained by death, but cowards when it comes to facing it in reality. This is akin to living a grand illusion. What one has experienced as entertainment rarely correlates to the real thing. What better reminder to the unbelieving that all of their striving for riches, honor, and pleasure, will ultimately land them in the same place as the beggar? Is it wise to shuffle this opportunity into the corner, and “have no memorial?”
4. Jesus didn’t die in obscurity, nor was He buried in obscurity. But more than that He was not raised from the dead in obscurity. Unbelievers are held as captive slaves to the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). Christ has risen from the dead, trampling over death by death. The death of death was in the death of Christ. Is it wise to shuffle this amazing, slave-freeing, soul changing news into the corner and “have no memorial?”
Death just like sin is constantly being redefined, shuffled to the corner, and sterilized so that the impact is manageable. The danger of it all is that by this redefinition and sterilization humanity is robbed of the greatest earthly reminder of its greatest enemy, and ultimately the One who conquerors that enemy. Can last wishes that rob loved ones of these opportunities be truly merciful? In the very thing that we experience the most tragedy, for believers, is the very thing that God uses to minister grace to our hearts.
The point is this – don’t redefine death. Let it stand in all its heinousness. To the degree that you sterilize death is in direct proportion to the degree that you can experience God’s mercy in saving you from death (Lk. 7:47). Feel the unbridled blow of it all, so that you can marvel at the magnitude of mercy!