Today’s scriptures are incredibly powerful stories. They speak of death and the shadow it can cast over our lives. In Samuel, the sordid story of Absalom comes to an end. Absalom is the epitome of the bad son. Vain, devious, rebellious and attempting to murder his father in order to become king. When news of Absalom’s death comes to David, instead of rejoicing, David weeps and cries out in despair, "My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you." And on the opposite side of the coin is the story from Mark. Jesus heals the long-suffering woman and raises the daughter of Jarius from the dead.
I once attended a graduation ceremony where the speaker jokingly told the graduates: "There are four phases to life. Birth, school, work and death. Congratulations. Now you’re ready for work and death." It was a joke, but kind of a depressing one. Death. Some people obsess over it. They earnestly fear death. They worry about it. They look for ways to delay it. And yet, the fact that it is coming is inescapable.
I can’t read the story from Samuel and not think back to my own life 20 some years ago. My younger sister had been battling cancer for almost two years. My wife and I were visiting my grandmother and aunts and uncles when news came that my sister had died. I had to break the news to my grandmother. The first words out of her mouth were, "Why couldn’t it have been me?" It was probably the worst moment in my life. Death can bring despair, grief, fear and hopelessness. At that point in my life, I was not a father. I didn’t even understand the crushing grief and pain that my parents were experiencing. If that were the end of the story, that would be pretty depressing and life would be pretty bleak. But it isn’t.
In the story from Mark, Jesus demonstrates his absolute power over death. And his instructions to Jarius? Do not be afraid; just have faith. It sounds simple. Death can seem overwhelming. It can seem like the end of the world. It’s about as final as it gets. How can we not be afraid? And yet Christ’s instructions are clear. If we believe that God loves us, if we believe in Christ’s promise, then we should be able to have faith and not be afraid. We can overcome our fear of death. Just a little faith, hope and courage and we will have life. The alternative is a paralyzing fear and a shallow life without hope. It seems like such an easy choice. Like I said, it seems so simple, but it isn’t.
The death of a loved one will always be a painful experience. The only way to avoid it is to never love. But death does not have to be a hopeless experience. One of my regrets in life is that my sister never met my children. But I know her blood is in me and in them. Her life helped to shape my life. And one of my hopes is that some day I will see my sister again. My prayer is for those whose lives are shaped or paralyzed by the fear of death. My prayer would be that the promise of Christ would free us from that fear and allow us to live an abundant life.
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