The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Young people today are preoccupied with death. It’s on their minds far more than most of us imagine. On the extremeties of this preoccupation are entire youth subcultures who dwell in a kind of death fantasy world of Gothic images and violent games. I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of all this. At the same time I do believe there is something to be said here about death and our wider society.
Up to the middle of the twentieth century many young people had the experience of seeing someone die, usually a grandmother or grandfather, perhaps an aunt or uncle. It was not uncommon for the body to lay in state in the home. Family and friends came by to pay their respects. As a very young boy I can recall at least one occasion when we did this. I can still see the old fellow lying there in the middle of the living room surrounded by the quiet mourners, young and old.
In the small Minnesota town where I served as pastor, an informal family service was held on the eve of every funeral. In a small chapel managed by the local funeral home, the family gathered in the presence of the open casket. Children, grandchildren, young and old stood around the body. Tears were shed, stories were told, the children asked questions.
Today we have marooned ourselves from death. When illness strikes we are whisked off to the hospital. If the illness is critical enough, the patient is put under guard by a long list of rules and regulations that limit access. If the person is too ill to return home, we warehouse them in those minimum security prisons called nursing homes. When death comes the body is sequestered and secreted off to the mortuary where it can be made presentable. Or, the remains are simply cremated. Under these circumstances, when we do everything we can to insulate our young from death, it should not be surprising that unhealthy preoccupations emerge.
After many years of experience visiting the dying within the context of the medical establishment I would have to observe that with all our technical sophistication in the medical field we have, I believe, become clumsy and inept in dealing with death. But there is more. The strenuous, competitive efforts of the medical establishment and our own denial of death may mask an even deeper illness – the idolatry of life.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”