This is a particularly difficult thing to speak about at this time. I don’t need to develop the reason right now other than to say that the body and mind of a very dear friend and a great man of God is under attack. I mention the difficulty of speaking about it only so that you won’t think I’m being glib!
Life is and should be precious to us. We see and feel that truth in a host of ways don’t we. And why wouldn’t it be this way for most of us? This means that even Christians who believe in life with Christ after death and then resurrection are loath to leave this place with all its warm relationships, lovely predictability and harmless pleasures.
Yes, we cheerfully sing, “This World is Not My Home” but it’s the only home we’ve known all our lives and it is God’s gift to us so how could we not, at some level, regret leaving it? Bless me, even at airports when our beloved is leaving for a longish period there are tears and hugs, almost a refusal to let them go. Should it be surprising that we express the fear of “loss” of them in the feverish way we try to prolong their life when it seems clear they are dying?
Still, in our bones we know we can’t put off the day forever. It’s appointed! Wouldn’t it be fine if we (not just the dying one—but the family and friends) were so shaped and assured that we could “give them up” in an assured and glorious way?
Not in a life-denying way, mark you, but doing it after we have (as Robert Browning put it) “earned” our death by living life to the full in joyful integrity. There are things worth dying for and there is a time when it’s okay to “lay yourself down with a will,” as Robert Louis Stevenson expressed it.
In the movie, El Cid, the hero lies mortally wounded with an arrow deep in his chest. He’s sure to die but his adoring wife wants to prolong it by mere hours by having the arrow removed even though it will weaken him. He resists her pleas because he must address and go out with the army that has lost heart because they think he’s dead and think they will have to face the enemy without him. He keeps the arrow and speeds his death so that he can do something worthy of his having lived—a life he has lived so well and honorably. He tenderly tells her, “You can’t save my life. You must help me to give it up.”
We all need that kind of help. When Death comes calling, and this time won’t go away without us, we need friends and family to help us “give it up” in a way that’s appropriate for who we are. There aren’t many scenes more impressive than those where vibrant faith in Jesus Christ is facing death with assured sorrow.
But long before we’re on our deathbeds we need that kind of help. We need people to help us not to hoard the life we’ve been given. We desperately need help to keep us from spending it selfishly on our own ease and we need people around us who will help us to be generous with it. Beyond the very obvious I don’t know well what this sort of talk means for myself so I’m not trying to diagnose and assess the life of anyone else. I just know that we are all sinners and in need of some help toward a richer Christlikeness.
During a dangerous viral outbreak a husband didn’t want his doctor wife to put their life together at risk by getting involved in helping the afflicted. Who can’t understand that? But who can’t be thrilled and pleased by her response? She told him, “I love you with all of my heart, my dear, but you mustn’t make it hard for me to do what’s right.” She was telling him, “Help me give it up.”
And then there was the One who faced the most momentous moment in His life when He would be overwhelmed with such sorrow (Matthew 26:38; sorrow! not fear) that He verges on an emotional breakdown and He called on three of His dear friends to come with Him to a garden and help Him to do what had to be done to bless a world.
His view of this occasion of mind-bending sorrow included this: “Therefore does my Father love Me because I lay down my life.” (John 10:11, 17) The Holy Father watches His Holy Son all through His life and watches Him consummate it when He puts the cup to His lips and He whispers, “How I love Him!” As this consummating act is happening the Father is loving His Son and not punishing Him. (A pox on that “punishing” notion!)
The great news is this: hearts like His “lay it down” that they might “take it again.” (John 10:17) They don’t scorn life and throw it away as trash.
Then there is this: in Matthew 20:22-23 the Lord Jesus tells His followers that they will drink of His cup. Sharing His cup is living a life of covenant faithfulness and love in the presence of “a world” that hates His followers precisely because they are His followers (John 15:18-21); followers who have taken up their crosses and are crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20; 6:14). However flawed they live a life “given up” throughout years in all those lovely Christlike ways and consummate it by a death faithfully offered up to God that it might be taken up again, purer, stronger more beautiful and more glorious.
(Holy One, bless us as we reflect on You in light of Your Holy Son and bless us with relationships or at least awareness of those who faithfully follow in His steps that we might be enabled to drink His cup and hear you say that You love us in our doing it. This prayer in Christ Jesus.)