In 1934 a movie was made called Death Takes a Holiday. It is a story of how ‘Death’ wanted to find out why everybody feared him, so he took on human form to mingle with the race. He ends up falling in love with a woman and having to decide whether to seek his own happiness or return to his duties of killing people. It was remade in 1971 and again in 1998 with Brad Pitt under the title Meet Joe Black. The thought of cheating death has always been a perennial human fantasy.
The truth is that most of us have a deep seated fear of death. And is it any wonder? It means leaving this world never to return, and for many they have no real sense of where they are going… if anywhere. Many people deal with death by not actually thinking about it in the first place. That is not really an option for me. As a pastor I conduct funerals and come face to face with real death (not the gratuitous movie version) every week. It is intriguing to see how differently people respond to a death of a loved one. Some become completely unraveled for months and years, others barely seem to grieve and move on. We had a friend who lost her 59 year old husband and within 3 months said she was ready to be begin dating. After I heard that I told Kathy that if I kicked the bucket she wasn’t allowed to date others till I was cold in the grave six months. She wryly replied, “Wow, a real control freak right to the end, huh?”. My daughter who was listening in asked, “Why six months?”. I told her, “Because any sooner and it would look like she already had a boyfriend.”
Maybe you heard the story of the wife who asked him if he would remarry if she died. “Of course!” He said without hesitation. Then she wanted to know where they would live. “Oh, right here in the house” He casually added. “Well, would she sleep in our bed”. The wife anxiously wanted to know. “I don’t see why not.” He said. Finally somewhat frustrated she asked, “Would you let her use my golf clubs too?” To which he answered, “Of course not, don’t be silly, she’s left handed.”
Should we fear death? It is as much of a right of passage as birth. There is no way to escape it. It touches every family and eventually every one of us. The scripture says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.” 1 The s 4:13-15
A few years ago I visited a woman in the hospital that was dying of cancer. I told her that I was going to pray for her and ask God to heal her. She said, “That would be good and if he heals me I would be delighted, and if not, I can go be with Jesus and that would be even better, so there is really no downside.” She had the most incredible sense of peace, and even enthusiasm about death. I remember how impressed I was with her confidence. Three days later she was gone and hers was easiest funeral I have ever conducted. I was able to share about her faith and confidence in the afterlife and the sense of comfort in the room was palpable.
I can contrast this with other funerals I have done where the ‘mourners’ were inconsolable about the lose of their 95 year old grandfather. We really should not be caught off guard by the death of a 95 year old. The loss of a child is another story. They are the toughest. We were never meant to outlive our children. The thought of a young person never having the opportunity to experience all that the fullness of life has to offer does feel like a great tragedy.
Almost everyone I know has had a brush with death. I had one last year when in very freakish situation a huge steel pipe got dropped from an overhead crane. I saw the shadow of it coming and looked up. In a reflex action which happened in the fraction of a second I stepped out of the way to have it land right where I was standing. At first it never fazed me but within hours I was replaying the encounter again and again in my head. I had trouble sleeping for several days. I finally wrestled through and got peace about it. I came to the conclusion that it was not my time… that my life was in God’s hands and if my ticket wasn’t up, it wasn’t up.
I have a lot of confidence about where I am going after I die. Heaven is something I look forward to some day, so I do not have much of a fear of death. However my brush with death gave me a far greater sense of God’s sovereignty in all this. Our time is in his hands. That is something we all need to rest in and come to grips with. I still think about that moment from time to time but it doesn’t tear me apart. God is in control and death… took a holiday.