Monday, November 16, 2009

Quck and Easy Dying

I think it is safe to say that we hear often the desire for a quick and easy death. Someone slips away in the midst of sleep, and sure enough folks when recounting the death will remark, "That's how I'd like to go." No anguish. No suffering. No burden to anyone else. And I understand that.

However, I have been struck several times while praying the Great Litany, that we pray for the Lord to deliver us from "an unprepared and evil death." And today, I read in my appointed readings from For All the Saints a letter from John Huss to his friends in Bohemia while he awaits his own death. He writes,
I am writing you once more, gracious and faithful friends in God, to show my gratitude for as long as I can, even taking pleasure in being able to converse with you by letter. I say to you that the Lord knows why He postpones my death as well as that of my dear brother, Master Jerome, of whom I have hopes that he will holily, without guilt, and that he conducts himself and suffers more bravely than I, a fainthearted sinner. The Lord God granted us a long time that we may better recollect our sins and forthrightly to regret them. He has granted us time so that the long-drawn-out and great testing may divest us of great sins and bring us consolation. He has granted us time to remember our King, the merciful Lord God Jesus' terrible disgrace, and to meditate on his cruel death and, for that reason, to suffer more gladly.
He also goes on to mention the sufferings of saints and martyrs and how it would seem strange for himself not to suffer in the face of his "brave stand against wickedness."

At the heart of the matter is the reality that death is something for which we must be prepared. For even in death are we called to witness to our God, the Lord over life and death. To acknowledge the coming of death allows us to be prepared so that we need not slink away, but face it head on in the sure and certain hope of resurrection. We may also reconcile with those with whom we are estranged.

This is not to suggest that all those who desire a quick death are unfaithful cowards. But it would be, I think, wise to return to the language and practices that prepare us for death. Whether we are the dying, or the ones who remain after a loved one remains. This return is not just a "better make sure Aunt Suzie knows Jesus before she slips away," but an encompassing set of practices where we remember the dead who have gone before us, a more open and conscious use of the commendation of the dying throughout the process. Even praying Compline on a regular basis where the line between physical sleep and death is blurred. We really do not need to fear death, nor suffering. No one likes to see a loved one suffer. But can we see Christ present there in the one suffering? Can we reach out to that one who bears witness to Christ's suffering to us and care for him as if he or she were indeed Christ?

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