Death Cafe

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Danse Macabre

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The timeworn, cynically homespun adage has it that there is nothing certain except for “death and taxes.” Nevertheless, modern science continues its relentlessly optimistic quest to abolish death, with tech entrepreneurs funding ever more ambitious schemes to live forever.[1] End-of-life medical care and the funeral industry – multibillion dollar businesses in North America alone – seek to dull the pain and obscure the ubiquity of death, veiling its grotesqueness under a cosmetically constructed façade of simulated sleep. A more recent concept in mitigating the horror of death came to my attention earlier in the week, appropriately enough in an obituary.

Sunbury, GA Cemetary (Photo by KRK)

The English Approach: Let’s Talk About Death

The late Mr. Jon Underwood of London was a pioneering proponent of the “Death Café” movement. The idea is to gather over tea and cake and discuss one’s own mortality. On the one hand, this is a commendable effort to face reality: death comes to all human beings and it behooves them to face that fact.[2] The only problem is that it does not go far enough in thinking about the matter. This is shown by Mr. Underwood’s comment when asked about his own demise: “It’s not ‘that I’m not scared of dying — I am! . . . But doing this work has given me confidence that whatever happens I will respond with openness and resilience. I know I will cope. That’s really useful!’”[3] Sadly, his Buddhism[4] offers no certainty for what comes after death; of course, that is the momentous issue. What comes after this life determines whether or not one can “cope” with death and its aftermath.

After Death, Eternal Existence, But Where?

The best place to learn about death is to the words of the Creator of life, who vanquished death through resurrection – The Lord Jesus Christ. He has been to the afterlife and returned to tell the tale (1 Cor. 15:3-8.) Death exists in our world because of mankind’s historical and ongoing sin (Romans 5:12; 6:23.) The Lord Jesus came to earth to destroy sin and the Devil who exploits it to human beings’ cost (1 John 3:8.) Not only did Christ physically die, He also suffered and died under the wrath of God for our sin (1 Pet. 3:18.) Thus, He knows what lies beyond this world and has dealt with sin which separates us from our Maker. Those who are trusting Christ for salvation need not fear death, for it is a vanquished foe.[5]

Christ’s words to Martha are revelatory: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26.) He can promise life after death because He has defeated death, as Hebrews 2 explains: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15; boldface mine.)

Elsewhere the Lord Jesus described the fruitfulness of His death and resurrection, saying: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24.) Commenting on His future harvest, one preacher remarked:

“The extent of this fruit-bearing we do not yet see. It is only one here, and another there, whom we see quickened from the death of sin by the all-vivifying power of him who, as the last Adam, is made a quickening spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). But, in the day of his glorious re-appearing; when he comes with the ten thousand of his saints, those who have slept in him, and those who shall be alive at his return; when he comes to smite Antichrist, to bind Satan, to deliver creation from its groans, to bless Israel, to be a light to the Gentiles, to set up his righteous kingdom, and to make all things new; it shall be seen what he has done by dying. In that day, when he presents to himself the Church of the first-born, the redeemed from among men, without spot or wrinkle, a great multitude that no man can number, we shall learn the extent and excellency of that fruitfulness which he acquired by dying. Heaven and earth, men and angels, shall then see why it was that this corn of wheat fell into the ground and died.”[6]

Christ For Us, With Us, And in Us

To those who receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are promised His presence through His indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:16-23; Col. 1:27.) He lives in them and empowers them for service (John 15:5); even if they should die physically, they are not separated from Him for an instant (2 Cor. 5:1-8.) Their soul and spirit – the incorporeal part of humans – are instantly in glory with Christ (Luke 23:43.) At His coming, their bodies will be raised, transformed into glorified form, and caught up to be with the Lord (Phil. 3:20-21; Psa. 17:15; 1 John 3:1-2.)

If one rejects Christ’s offer to save and transform one into His glorious image, there is nothing left but to suffer a lost eternity of conscious punishment in the Lake of Fire – what people commonly call “hell” (Mark 9:42-48; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 20:11-15.) The only way to “cope” with life, dying, death and what comes after is to have a living relationship with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:3.)

Ford Maddox Brown, Convalescent, (Portrait of Emma Maddox Brown); https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Convalescent_-_Portrait_of_Emma_Madox_Brown.jpg, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Convalescent_-_Portrait_of_Emma_Madox_Brown.jpg

Here are afflictions and trials severe,
Here is no rest—is no rest;
Here I must part
with the friends I hold dear,
Yet I am blest—I am blest.
Sweet is the promise
I read in Thy Word:
Blessed are they
who have died in the Lord;
They have been called
to receive their reward;
‘There, there is rest—there is rest.’

This world of care is
a wilderness state,
Here is no rest—is no rest;
But I must bear from
the world all its hate,
Yet I am blest—I am blest.
Soon shall I be
from the wicked released;
Soon shall the weary forever be blest;
Soon shall I lean upon Jesus’ breast;
‘There, there is rest—there is rest.’
[7]

♰        ♰         ♰        ♰         ♰         ♰

Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.

Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.

The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me.
 

Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.

For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou’rt ris’n—my hands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me![8]

______________________________________________________________________

[1] Time, 9/30/13, Cover story: http://time.com/574/google-vs-death/

[2] Heb. 9:27. Of course, Christ promised the notable exception of those believers who are alive when He returns “in the air” to collect His church, 1 Thes. 4:13-18. Even if a believer dies before this event, he will: 1. Not taste of death in the sense that he will never be separated from God’s love in Christ, John 11:25-26; Rom. 8:37-39; Heb. 2:9-13. 2. Be raised to meet the Lord in the sky, 1 Thes. 4:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:20-23.

[3] Quoted in his obituary: Iliana Magra, “Jon Underwood, Founder of Death Café Movement, Dies At 44,” New York Times, 7/11/17, electronic ed. accessed here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/international-home/jon-underwood-dead-death-cafe-movement.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fobituaries&action=click&contentCollection=obituaries&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0 [Boldface mine.]

[4] “As a Buddhist, Mr. Underwood had already contemplated the philosophical questions of dying.” Ibid.; His website also indicates that he was a student at “Jamyang Buddhist Centre,” Accessed here: http://deathcafe.com/profile/2/

[5] As a Puritan writer explained it: “Death to a holy man is nothing but the changing of his grace into glory, his faith into vision, his hope into fruition, and his love into perfect comprehension.” Thomas Brooks, “The Crown & Glory of Christianity,” in The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, Vol. 4. (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 179.

[6] Horatius Bonar, “Sermon XXIII: Life & Fruitfulness Through Death,” in Family Sermons. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 180. In another sermon, he said: “The first Adam died; so also died the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven. But there is a difference. The first Adam died, and, therefore, we die. The second Adam died, and therefore, we live; for the last Adam was made a quickening spirit; and this is the pledge of final victory over death and the tomb. Thus, the grave is the cradle of life; night is the womb of day; and sunset has become sunrise to our shaded and sorrowful earth. Yet, this is not yet realized. We are still under the reign of death, and this is the hour and the power of darkness. The day of the destruction of death, and the unlocking of sepulchers is not yet. It will come in due time. Meanwhile we have to look on death; for our dwelling is in a world of death,—a land of graves. If, then, we would get beyond death’s circle and shadow, we must look above. Death is here, but life is yonder! Corruption is here, incorruption is yonder. The fading is here, the blooming is yonder. We must take the wings of the morning and fly away to the region of the unsorrowing and the undying; where ‘that which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power, and death be swallowed up in victory.’” H. Bonar, “Sermon XLIII: The Mortal & The Immortal,” in Family Sermons, 418-419.

[7] Anon., Believer’s Hymnbook, #72.

[8] Anne Ross Cousin, “O Christ What Burdens Bowed Thy Head,”; electronic ed. accessed on 7/19/17 here: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/c/ocwbubth.htm