It seems to me that people in centuries past were much more familiar with death up close and personal than we are today. Citizens of Rome watched both animals and people killed before their very eyes. Public crucifixions and other forms of public executions were commonplace. Since there were few if any hospitals, people died in their homes; and everybody, young and old, was in close contact with the dying process. Warfare brings dying close to a civilian population, but America hasn’t suffered military conflict on its own shores since the guns of the Civil War fell silent in 1865. We have our own history of public hangings, of course, but in general the carrying out of capital punishment is no longer a public experience. There are very few witnesses to lethal injections. In fact, there were only 39 instances of capital punishment in the whole country last year, and that annual number has been shrinking for 15 years.
The dying experience, of course, is very familiar to people in health care. Hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices are often where people today die, and the nurses and aides who work there I’m sure have plenty of stories of the moment of death. Some are silent, since the patient may have lost consciousness days or weeks earlier. Some are full of emotion and pain. I have racked my brain and can think of only three times in my whole life that I have been present when death came to someone. All were in hospital settings. Two were dramatic; one was peaceful.
Jesus’ moment of death was definitely dramatic. After the agony of the cross, truly hell on earth, he could state with absolute finality, “It is finished.” His work was finished; sin’s curse was finished; death was finished; hell was finished; Satan was finished. Grace was pronounced upon the whole world. His last breath brought his prayer of absolute confidence, dying confidence: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus’ physical resurrection on Easter morning vindicated his confidence in his Father and publicly demonstrated that the Father accepted his sacrifice on our behalf.
It is Jesus’ resurrection that takes all the sting and fear out of the dying experience for Christians.
Because he lives, we too shall live. Filling your heart with that marvelous message this week will prepare you for the experience of being at the side of a dying person. It is a message you can share with others at a funeral.
It will also prepare you with confidence and courage for the time when death approaches you.