When Mark mentioned the theme for this edition of Ruminations, my first thoughts turned to scripture, then to poetry. Verses about death, and the wondering which surrounds it; the beauty and the sorrow and the ruminating, as poets and theologians seek both to express their feelings and to plumb the depths of something which comes to each and all.
Death, and birth, are the most common things among us, we humans. Thus, we write and theologise, we compose and wonder, we rage against the dying of the light,[i], while some of us spend some portion of our lives always glancing behind.[ii]
There are those of us try to airbrush death from our language altogether, by using phrases which attempt to hold it at arm’s length; people no longer die, they simply “pass” as if they have mystically moved into the next room or graduated in some ghastly (ghostly?) exam.
These euphemisms are an attempt to lessen our fear, or our loss. They do neither. Our grief reflects our joy and love and lives shared; it not a problem, but rather, a gift. Our fears reflect a measure of what we don’t know, and of what we do; we need each other for this journey.
Much of our writing and praying reflects us trying to make sense of the lives we lead, as we face suffering on a personal level, and a global one. As we struggle to know what – and how – to pray for our friend who is facing their own death, we are confronted by the immensity of Ukraine’s invasion and the deaths which accompany it. At that moment, words can seem almost irrelevant, perhaps we fall to weeping.
Across our communities and our world, we have been immersed in conversations, even protest, about voluntary assisted dying and in these last few weeks, about abortion. How we engage – in all ways – reflects our fear, our anger, our experience and our hope.
As we speak of birth, life and death, we speak inherently of our faith. As disciples of Jesus, we approach dying and death with caution; our fear and our concern are seasoned with hope. Our hope neither makes death a minor problem, nor an easy path, but it addresses the depth of our life with more than poetry.
I have often pondered whether we are less fearful of death than we are of resurrection. How might our hope, in Christ, be realised? When we affirm our Easter faith, what do we imagine we are, in fact, affirming?
Our hope lies in Jesus Christ. Our affirmation begins, and is complete, in Christ, crucified and risen. We begin, in faith, to make sense of our lives and our suffering, our fear and our weeping, because we name Jesus as the hope in which we locate ourselves.
This story is neither easy, nor untroubled. We need our poets and our scriptures to speak when we cannot; we need our siblings with us, to remind us of the God who has expended everything to seek us out and find us.
Death is not the last word. Life is, in Christ.
To each and all of us, “I wish you God.”[iii]
[i] Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night”
[ii] John Foulcher, “Death”
[iii] Les Murray, “The Last Hellos”