Monday, March 24, 2008

The Lord of Life

This weekend's reminders of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ stirred up thoughts about the grief that Jesus' friends and family certainly knew following his crucifixion as well as thoughts about the mortality of humanity in general. That's what makes Easter so amazing. It defeats that mortality; it's other than the norm. That's why we say He is the Lord of Life; He has mastered death.

Truth is, I've never been terribly afraid of death, and I suppose I have my parents to thank for that. Unlike some, they felt it was important for children to understand the reality of death, rather than shelter them from it. Either that, or they couldn’t find babysitters, so we got to go along. Nevertheless, I vividly remember my first experience at a funeral as a 7 or 8 year old, because like many kids, I saw every new event as an adventure. Much to my delight, although we were in central Louisiana, among the attendees was the comedienne Ruth Buzzi. (If you know who she is, you understand my thrill, and if you don’t, you’re young enough to know how to “google” her.) Thus, although I’d met the deceased several times, and was truly saddened for those who grieved, I was eminently more interested in seeing Ruth than the body as we processed in front of the casket, so I carefully peeked around my mother to catch another glimpse of the actress.

My dad probably didn’t help my increasing comfort level with death by telling amusing stories of working at a funeral home while studying for his Master’s Degree. My favorite that he tells was of the day he and a co-worker were called to pick up the body of a recently deceased, rather obese woman. With some difficulty, he and the fellow managed to get the body to the funeral home, but to get it onto the mortician’s table, a few extra hands were needed. With two men on either end, they strained to lift the woman's body onto the table. As gently as possible, they laid her down only to hear her offer up a deep moaning sigh. There’s still a Daddy-shaped hole in the wall, I think. As it turned out, the woman was indeed dead, but some air had been trapped in her lungs, and with the movement of her body, it escaped out her mouth, vibrating her vocal chords.

Of course, there is a side of death that lacks any amusement. Like learning as I did as a junior in high school that one of my best friends had been killed in a car accident due to the negligence of an on-coming driver, or watching as families tear themselves apart over an inheritance rather than simply dividing that inheritance among themselves. And I’ll never forget the Mother’s Day Darin left our family festivities to bury a woman in a pauper’s grave while her children drove away in automobiles made by Lexus and Cadillac.

But death can be a blessing, an escape for those who have struggled with pain and illness. My great-grandmother’s death was an example. A crippled, but godly woman of 96, she said to my aunt moments before she died, “Straighten out my legs, I want to be able to walk into heaven.” Both my grandmothers were merely shells of who they had been before disease and sickness ravaged their bodies. I also remember the emotion surrounding the death of a 16 year old girl named Julie. Debilitated from Leukemia, she found wholeness in the complete and final healing of her body. Even as a mere child, I knew that with the sadness was a restful blessing; that the striving her body had known for so long was finally over. The fact that I shared her name forever impressed upon me that I, too, would one day experience death – maybe not in the same way, or under the same circumstances, but it would nevertheless come as another note in the song of life.

Despite the power death has over this body, I'm so thankful to know that the Lord of life is Lord over death. He has proven that there is no reason to fear its hold. For he has made the devil (who had the power of death) powerless (Hebrews 2:14), thus "we are free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2)! Praise God!

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