Shakespeare wrote, ‘Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.’ (Macbeth, Act IV, sc iii). All of you know that I’m most at home with words. They are my solace and strength in so many ways.
Over Easter I spoke about how death is an affront to us because God has placed eternity in our hearts. All humanity instinctively grieves over death because somehow we understand this was not how life was meant to be. All death causes us to stop, to reflect, to pause, and one of the strangest aspects is when the bereaved person wakes up on the day after discovering the death of a loved one and realises life is going on all around them as if nothing has happened. The sun has risen. The birds are singing. People are still chatting and laughing. You wonder how that can be so when your world has tilted and shifted so irrevocably. How can life go on when this life no longer will?
Our thoughts during a pandemic are relentlessly forced to think of death. Daily briefings pour statistics at us of confirmed cases and deaths related to Covid-19 in ways that mean panic and fear are stoked. I have been left angry and frustrated at this, because deaths occur every day and are not heralded or spoken about, and yet perhaps they ought to be. I don’t mean to minimise the grief felt at every death at this time, for each person’s death matters. But I am not at all convinced that this daily bombardment is helpful or healthy.
In the midst of all this, I am having to deal with death personally: the death of my father, suddenly and unexpectedly following a fall at his home. Suddenly, he is an additional death statistic that’s unrelated to the pandemic (and therefore unmentioned on the news bulletins), but his death brings death close to home. My family is mourning a father, a father-in-law, a brother-in-law, a grandad, a great-grandad. His church family feels shocked and helpless at the loss of their member. The manner of death doesn’t really change the reactions to death. I still woke yesterday and listened to normality with a strange sense of detachment, even in these abnormal times.
The truth is ‘in the midst of life we are in death’. I learnt this at an early age and have always been acutely aware of how fragile and precious life is. But, as Garry preached on Sunday evening, Jesus came to free us from the fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). I am confident my father is now in the presence of the One who defeated death and therefore my grief and mourning are filled also with hope. Whether we live or die, those who have trusted Christ as their Saviour belong to the Lord. (Rom 14:8) That’s all that really matters, and it’s why the gospel message must be shared with all at this time when, for once, death is allowed to be in our thoughts.