When I was in graduate school I read The Denial of Death, the Pulitzer-prize winning book of cultural anthropology by Ernest Becker. His thesis is that all of civilization, and in fact most of our labor throughout life, is an elaborate defense mechanism against the awareness of our mortality. It would be too terrifying, to think about nothingness, and so valiantly we live as if death is somewhere else, some other time.
But then we have daily reminders: the dreaded obituary page. No
wonder people stop getting the paper! They are there, old and too young, from
every sort of background, whole lives jammed into as few words as contained in
this email you're reading.
Worship reminds us of our mortality - and without blushing. Church
is the one place we do not shrink from talking about death. Yes, there's that
ultimate flatline in the hospital, a doctor signs a death certificate, and it's
over - but we believe death is not the final word. Defiantly we believe Jesus'
gruesome death wasn't his final ruin, and so there is hope for us. We believe
God made you, or me, as such a complex, robust creature that the end of such a
wonder is difficult to conceive - and the reason is the horror of death is not
the end. We believe God's love is so immense, so unrattleable, that God can
laugh off death and just continue to love us. That's what eternal life is about:
not some inherent immortality in me, but the astonishing gift of God's
relationship with us that thankfully will never die.
So we can look at death, and not avert our gaze. We can calm down,
and actually we can live more wisely, not panicked to cram it all in, but with a
The axis around which all our worship revolves is the worship of
Holy Week, which begins in 3 days. It's a saga of death and great sorrow,
culminating in a miracle - the miracle - and gasping delight. Each day of
this sacred week, I will email you a prayer for the day. Block it out now: time
to be still, to ask What wondrous love is this? - and to shake off all denial of
death, and embrace our Lord who came to Jerusalem to show us his inner heart,
and ultimate designs for the world.