Thursday, February 7, 2019
No need of God. . .
It is as if we no longer need God in the face of death. When the tears of real grief become the sharing of funny story (usually at the expense of the dead), death is no longer something that requires divine intervention. We have it in check. We do not need to call upon God in our sorrows but only to wash away the pain only to be consoled by the knowledge of what the dead might have wanted (quick and easy death without pain). If that better death did not come, the even more death is welcomed as the most merciful of mercies in relieving the suffering of their pain (suffering and pain being worse than death itself). Again no need of God here. In fact, when God does not intervene, we can and will with drugs that seem quite effective at providing a painless and quick and easy death (suicide or euthanasia) though curiously somehow ineffective when it comes to the execution of prisoners (odd, isn't it). Death is just death and God does not need to concern Himself. We have got it.
All of this seems to have been aided and abetted by the liturgical movement. In contrast to the dark and solemn colors, sounds, and character of the old funeral requiem, the liturgical movement gave us white and tuned the funeral into a liturgy of joy. In effect, the liturgical movement converted the solemnity of the funeral rite into an informal beatification in which we celebrated the presumption that the heart of the dead is known to us and they are not in the better place (probably with God) thaqt escaped them on earth. In some cases, it was hard to escape the gleeful singing of the alleluia for the dead as if it were not such a big deal. But it is what we wanted to believe after all. Faith or not, good works or not, evidence or not, we want to believe that heaven is full and hell is empty -- especially when it comes to the old curmudgeon we loved to hate in life but not enough to wish into hell.
Again, God is almost superfluous to the whole thing and Christ has become merely the elevator operator who lifts the dead to their glory, to the good things they must deserve, and to the end of the end of the hopes and dreams the living had for them. It is surely what the dead would have wanted had the dead been religious at all!
If the Church fails to witness to the horror of death, then she fails to witness to the wondrous mystery of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. If death is a big deal, then we need a real Savior, God in flesh, to rescue and redeem us from the death that was the side dish in our buffet of choice in which we were gods being served up nothing less than our desires. So the last thing the Church ought to do is make nice with death and treat it as if it were not such a bad thing, even normal and often welcome, and leave God to the sidelines as we content ourselves with the story of the life of the dead and a few hearty laughs at their expense.
We cannot forget that the one and only ultimate end of man is the beatific vision, seeing God face to face and not in some spiritual vision with our own eyes. Job has it just right. I know that my Redeemer liveth. I shall see Him face to face, in my own [new] flesh. If someone attains this end, he has attained the purpose for which he was created and redeemed in Christ Jesus. If someone fails to attain this, then his whole purpose has been left incomplete and empty. Our final condition is either total victory with God in heaven or total failure without Him in torment. We either win it all in Christ or lose it all without Him. There is nothing in between, no option for the weak at heart or the hesitant to commit or the spiritual but not religious. The only “happy ending” for the dead is heaven, and the only “tragedy” of death is hell. All the rest is relative.
I do not say this to wound but to remind those for whom God is optional in death that our hope does not lie with us nor does our comfort come from a long or well-lived or happy life. Christ alone is our comfort. When Christians begin to suggest that there might be worse things than death, then they usher God to the sideline not only in death but in life. To preach the horror of death is to acknowledge that though we can try and make our peace with the last enemy to be destroyed, God cannot. His ache for our need sent forth His one and only Son to be born of a Virgin to die in our place, to suffer for the guilty so that they might be declared righteous, and to rise to bestow upon the dead what they have no right to hope for apart from Christ.
Be careful with the way we approach death for it is a grave temptation for the Christian to treat death in such a way that Christ and His resurrection are more afterthought than central truth and hope. Thanks be to God that the Most High was not willing to settle for this life only and had the strength of love and the courage of heart to do whatever was necessary to rescue and redeem the dead. If you do not hear that at the funeral of a Christian, you have not heard the Gospel.