The old enemy returns

Nov 23rd, 2010 | By | Category: Ministry

The greyness of late November becomes stifling; the fog heavy with frost and the fumes of countless turf fires has a touch of Victorian melodrama about it, the moon for a moment appearing, before the mist closes over again.  The blanket seems heavier than usual.

A story from forty years ago resurfaces. At the time of decimalisation in Britain in early 1971, there was reportedly a lady who told a reporter that she didn’t mind the idea of the decimal money but thought that the Government might have waited for the old people to die before they brought the new money in.  Everyone laughed when the story was told. Sometimes, though, there seems to be sense in what she was saying. Sometimes it would be a whole lot easier if things could be put off for just a while.

Returning from a funeral in the North and preparing for one in the parish, the thought recurs  that to put off things for a while would not be such a bad option; someone better equipped, better able, could then take on the postponed tasks.

If I had a wish, it would be that there would be a fifteen year moratorium on people dying, at least on my patch, so that I could get through to retirement without having to stand wordless as another family loses a loved one.

I hate death. I hate all the euphemisms we use for it. I hate watching the grief and the pain. I hate the emptiness that is still there years afterwards.

Christians are never meant to be reconciled to death. Saint Francis, whatever else he may have got right, got it wrong when he spoke of our “Sister Death”.  Scripture never uses such benign terms about something so dark. Saint Paul is quite clear about where we stand. He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death”. No sisterly regard from that apostle, no ambiguity, death is an enemy that is to be destroyed.

No mistaking what Saint Paul says. No mistaking what Saint Peter says either. The dead were trapped in Hades and Jesus goes to preach to them in order that they might have a chance of escape. The idea that death was a sister would have sounded strange and alien to the Jewish ears of Peter – death was an end, a negation of life.

There will be no moratorium on death this side of Doomsday, but to be reconciled to it would be like believing deep November fog to be the normal state of the weather.  November passes and so will the old enemy.

Leave Comment