Sun, Sep 20, 2020

Death and life

Duration:12 mins 53 secs


it’s a powerful force…

one that is easily manipulated.

Nineteen years ago…

terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the Twin Towers in New York.

In response, our governments ramped up security and surveillance…

and there were subtle erosions to our rights and freedoms.

In response, too, there percolated a sense of distrust––

and fear––

of our Muslim neighbours;

and an ugly backlash against the Muslim community…

that remains to this day.

Elements of the media played on our fears––

fears of the ‘dangerous other’…

fears of forces beyond our control.

It’s the same sort of fears that we have about shark attacks––

despite the incredibly small risk.

It’s the same sort of fears that the pandemic has produced.

It’s the fear of violence and danger… 


ready to strike us when we least expect it…

when we otherwise feel safe and secure.

And, surely, that’s a big part, isn’t it––

safety and security?

They seem to be the obsession of our modern age.
And yet, the irony is...  

that in many respects…

our world is safer than it’s ever been in terms of our day-to-day lives––

notwithstanding the current pandemic.

Maternal and infant mortality rates continue to decline…

while the average life expectancy continues to climb––

at least for non-indigenous Australians.

Our cars and planes… 

our homes and workplaces…

are safer than they have ever been.

Maybe, it’s simply a case of the more that we have…

the more that we come to expect.

And, perhaps, we see this most clearly in regards to medicine.

The more that our technology advances…

and the more that our medical knowledge expands––

such that potentially life-threatening diseases are eradicated or cured––

the more that we come to expect.

We have become increasingly insulated from the full reality of death.

We’re shielded from death in a way that people of previous generations weren’t.

Most people now die in some sort of medical facility––

surrounded by electronic gadgets and professional carers––

rather than at home––

surrounded by extended family––

as would have happened a few generations ago.

And, subtly or not, that separation from death––

and the concomitant attitude towards death––

has had a profound effect on our worldview.

Medically speaking…

death has come to be regarded simply as an abject failure.

So much of our energy is spent trying to deny…

to avoid…

and to cheat death…

until we no longer can…

and we reach the point where we meekly surrender to it…

or we “rage against the dying of the light”.

Despite all of our striving for safety and security…

death remains the great enemy that stalks us. 


When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was an old man––

perhaps not old by our standards today––

but, certainly, relative to the life expectancy of his day.

More than that… 

he was an old man in prison––

at a time when prisons weren’t very salutary;

and he was facing a very uncertain future––

facing a possible death that would be both painful and shameful.

And, in what more or less amounts to a farewell address, Paul muses:

“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way but that, by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain”.

Yes, there’s a fair lashing of rhetoric here––

and more than a touch of bravado as well––

and it’s clearly influenced by the Hebrew tradition of the righteous martyr.

But, notwithstanding all of that…

what we don’t see here is any effort to deny, avoid, or cheat death;

nor do we see an irrational or morbid fear of death.

Paul is neither meekly surrendering…

nor is he going kicking and screaming into “that good night”.

Quite the opposite.

Paul embraces life.

Not in the sense that he wants to “suck out all the marrow of life”—

as David Henry Thoreau once put it.

It’s not that he has a bucket list that is, as yet, incomplete.

Rather, Paul embraces a life that includes within it the seeds of death.

He admits that he chooses to pursue a way of life that is inherently risky:

he intends to continue proclaiming his hope and faith––

despite the fact that it is what put him in this predicament in the first place;

despite the fact that it will stir up more opposition;

despite the fact that it will probably lead to his death.

Paul, here, embraces a life that matters––

a life lived for others…

a life lived for, and in the presence of, God.

And for Paul, death–– 

whenever and however it might come––

is both a part of that…

and ought to be consistent with that.

What matters, for Paul, is the manner of his life and the manner of his death.

What matters is that both give testimony to his faith in God through Jesus Christ.

Paul wants us to see our life–– 

and to live our life––

fully in accord with the life, the death, and the rising to new life of Jesus Christ.

And I don’t mean that in a pre-critical, pietistic, pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die sense––

the sort of construct to which Christianity has so often reduced the idea of “resurrection”.

Rather, as the theologian, Jürgen Moltmann puts it:

“Through his divine raising from the dead, Christ’s hope-less end became his true beginning. If we remember that, we shall…expect that in every end a new beginning lies hidden. Yet we shall only become capable of new beginnings if we are prepared to let go”.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction that life and death are intimately entwined––

not only that death is an integral part of life…

but that, in every end, there is a beginning.


The challenge for us––

as Christians in the twenty-first century––

is to embody that:

to proclaim… 

and to demonstrate in the way that we live that…

in every end…

there is, indeed, a beginning.

That’s a challenge for us personally and individually––

to embrace endings…

and to be open to possible new beginnings that might emerge.

It’s a challenge for us, corporately, as a nation.

If we were to let go of our irrational fears…

and our obsession with security at any cost…

and genuinely re-discovered and lived out the values that we espouse––

values like generosity, fairness, and hospitality––

there could, indeed, be a new beginning for our community.

But, it’s also a challenge for us, corporately, as the church.

Let’s face it… 

so many people expend so much time and effort trying to keep the church going…

to resuscitate it… 

to breathe new life into it…

because, tacitly, they’re afraid to let it die.

So many become obsessed with “bums on pews”…

with financial security…

with the survival of all that they know and hold dear.

Perhaps, rather, as church…

we ought to embrace a way of life that risks death…



sows the seeds of our own death.

Only then, perhaps, might there be a new beginning.

Only then, perhaps, might God bring forth new and abundant life.

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