Facing our mortality

When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.  (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2)

In any given population there will be a few individuals whose death will be reported by media and mourned by grieving masses. Some people make the news, not because of their life but because of the tragic circumstances in which they died. Many more will people die without even a footnote in the local obituary, and yet their death is as a real and the grief from loved ones as profound.

More celebrities will depart this world in 2017, and countless thousands of anonymous people will join them in the grave. This isn’t being facetious or morbid, but stating what is inevitable

As we have been assailed with stories of people dying we respond to death with revulsion, and rightly so, for it is a destroyer of life and friendship; death is our enemy. When we have witnessed someone suffer for an extended season, there can be relief in their passing, but it is not their life that wish to see ending but their suffering.

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Their mortality reminds us of our own, and it is wise for us to give due consideration to our beliefs and hopes over the grave.

It is not uncommon for people to sentimentalise and even trivialise death. Perhaps we do so in the hope of defying this great adversary.

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.

(Henry Scott-Holland)

Another approach, and one that is probably more common, is that of rage and anger, as Dylan Thomas famously cried,

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

There is however an alternative to uncertain optimism and despair, and it is spelled out in the good news of Jesus Christ,

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.

“Where, O death, is your victory?

    Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(1 Corinthians 15:51-57)

Throughout the life and ministry of Jesus Christ we see God who empathises with those who grieve. John ch.11 records the story of one of Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, falling ill and dying. When Jesus reached the town where Lazarus lived and died, he mourned with the family and outside the tomb “he wept”.

Jesus not only sat alongside those in the midst of grief, but he has walked the path of death. He endured its full horrors, not because of sickness or tragic circumstances, but he chose to enter into death out of love for humanity and to face hell for us. Indeed, in the hours before his crucifixion he told his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matt 26:38)

We are all approaching death, faster than we imagine; it is the great wall that cannot be avoided. But it does not have to be journeyed alone, and it does not have to endured without certain hope of resurrection. Imprinted into the fabric of the deathly world is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; real, historic, physical, and forever resurrection.

We can choose to pin our hopes on imagined sleep-like permanence, or fight off all thoughts of death until the moment arrives and we explode with fearful rage, or we can place our confidence in the one who has defeated death and who promises eternal resurrection to all who accept him, to the celebrity and the unknown, the beggar and the prince.

I am Pakistan?

 

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Today, 70 people in Lahore Pakistan were murdered as they celebrated Easter. The majority of the dead are children and women. Hundreds more people have been injured by the suicide bombing, which has been claimed by the Taliban.

The Taliban chose their time and place carefully, deliberately targeting Christians. This is a far too common story in the Middle East and subsaharan Africa. Persecution against Christians and other minority groups has persisted in many of these countries for decades, and sporadically over centuries. But they are not the only victims; as we have seen in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, Muslim people are readily targeted, and in Brussels and Paris the attacks were levelled at secular societies.

Yesterday in Baghdad while people gathered to enjoy a soccer match, a man blew himself up killing 41 people, mostly children.

Last week, 31 people were blown up in Brussels, with Islamic State taking responsibility.

The week before, at least 37 people were killed in one of Ankara’s busiest streets, when a car packed with explosives was detonated;  a Kurdish group has claimed to be behind the bombing.

As with Paris last year, following the dreadful carnage in Belgium social media was taken captive to hashtag Belgium, and people overlaid their Facebook profiles with the colours of the Belgian flag. National leaders took to their pulpits to cry solidarity with our friends and allies. Perhaps somewhat symbolic of Western ignorance, the One World Trade Centre lit up the Manhattan skyline in the Belgian colours: red, white and blue? But where was the public support for the Turkish people last week? Where was the twitter outrage and the clarion calls from our politicians when a Baghdadi soccer field turned red with the blood of children? In light of the Lahore massacre will we tomorrow light  the spiral of the Victorian Arts Centre in Pakistan’s green and white?

Our humanity has constraints; limitation is after all a characteristic common to all people. We do not therefore have the emotional capacity to mourn all who die in this world and to scream at all the wickedness that weaves so deeply through every culture. But while  our tears are reserved for Western nations, the rest of the world is right to be suspicious of us

There is an episode of The West Wing where President Bartlett is troubled by a genocide unfolding in a African nation. During a conversation with a staffer he asks, “Why is a Kuhndunese life worth less to me than an American life?” To which the advisor answered, ‘I don’t know, Sir, but it is.’

Why is it, we feel the grief and anger from Paris and Brussels, and not of Africa, Pakistan, and Turkey?

Until we can say ‘I am Turkey’ and ‘I am Pakistan’, we again prove the prejudice of our humanity. And  yet can we even dare to speak such seemingly supercilious words to those who have suffered so much?

Last year I made the observation that where the cultural and historical links are closer, there is often a greater outpouring of responses. Perhaps we should not be surprised therefore that more attention is given to our European friends than to others. Then again, perhaps our compassion stems from a vulnerability which emerges from seeing in those Western cities a mirror into our own way of life.

In other words, we empathise with those who are most like us. In contrast, consider the way Easter defines God’s condescension toward humanity. The explosion that has killed so many people in Lahore will one day be silenced by the Easter message which those people had gathered to celebrate. Easter reminds us of God who ‘so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16)

God showed love not by changing a few coloured light bulbs or by trending a hashtag on twitter; the depth of this love of God was the substitutionary death of his only Son. God came into his own, the incarnation. He paid the penalty for human insurrection, the cross. He triumphed over the grave, thus vindicating his claim of Divinity and the efficacy of his salvific power, the resurrection.

The extent of this love of God is for the world. John 3:16 does not suggest a universal salvation, for the text makes clear that faith in Jesus is necessary and rejecting Jesus Christ results in judgement. Nonetheless, in Christ, God has expressed extraordinary love for the world. He is not of or for the West, he is not English speaking or the God of the middle class, his concern is global. The Bible describes this God in ways unparalleled in any religion and in ways more tangible, and with a good news message that is changing hearts and lives in every nation on earth:

In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:4)

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Many Western societies, including our own, are turning our backs on Christianity; to our spiritual, moral, and intellectual detriment. After centuries of economic, political, technological and military progress we have gained the world, but lost our souls. But in many of these very nations who are witnessing such horrific slaughter, Christianity is growing. In these lands the reality of Easter resonates louder and more true than the wimpish silence of the West who either do not share the desire or have the capacity to be one with them and for them.

’16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.’ (John 3:16-21)

Earth Hour and Resurrection Sunday

This year, Earth Hour shares the same day as Easter Sunday. Coincidence? Yes. Timely? Perhaps so.

Earth Hour began in 2007 in one of Australia’s colloquial towns, Sydney. A year later Melbourne joined with hundreds of global cities to participate in Earth Hour. According to the Earth Hour website, there are now over 7000 cities and towns participating worldwide.

It is hard for my wife and I to forget Earth Hour, given it coincides with our wedding anniversary. Nothing makes for a romantic dinner than having the power turned off for an hour!

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Earth hour is a one hour ‘lights off’ event. Between 7:30-8:30pm homes, businesses, and public places are encouraged to switch off their lights as a way of communicating the threat of global warming and showing consensus that we need to do more to limit its consequences.

To quote, we “show their support a low pollution, clean energy future, one in which we can continue to enjoy the best of nature and our great Aussie outdoor lifestyle.”

Earth hour is symbolic, a gesture indicating a concern and call for responsible living in this world.

This year, Earth Hour synchronises with Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday as it is also known. This is a day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Far from being symbolic, Jesus’ death and resurrection is historic, literal, and real. We may turn the lights off for an hour, Jesus experienced the darkness of death.

His work changed the world. While the resurrection of Jesus certainly has a future looking fulfilment, it is has the power to change the human heart even in the present. And far from ditching this current world, the physical nature of Jesus’ resurrection affirms the value of creation. We are not left disregarding the world and neither are we left pinning the hopes of the world on ourselves.

Earth Hour reminds us of the fallenness of this world, and indeed how complicit we are in this; the resurrection of Jesus proclaims the redemption. We need a God-sized solution to our world’s problems, whether it is global warming or a thousand of other insurmountable issues that weigh down humanity and stifle life, truth and love.

As the Apostle Paul wrote,

’We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

The ultimate answer to Earth hour is Resurrection Sunday.

As we turn off our lights for one hour and commiserate the global sized problems before us, why not also reflect on the tangible hope offered us in the person and work of Jesus Christ?