Posts Tagged death
Yesterday, my son was sick with a stomach bug. When our bodies get sick, there are symptoms that tell us something is wrong. The symptoms are painful and sometimes feel unbearable, but without them, we would not do what needs to happen to get well. If I didn’t get a fever or feel nauseous, then I would not know to lay down and rest in order to get well. Today, St Louis is experiencing the symptoms of an illness that has been infecting our community for a long time. We can chose to ignore these symptoms, but it would only be ensuring the diseases we suffer are going to continue. As a worship planner, I have a few thoughts on what our job looks like as we start to respond to the symptoms with the correct treatments. I have a few gospel based themes that I have been trying to emphasize in the midst of this crisis.
Fear vs. Love
Fear has been a major symptom of the community disease that has infected us. Fear is at the root of race-based discrimination and it is also at the root of self-righteous rants on social media. As Tony Myles shared last Sunday, we are prompted by fear to bow down to the “false narratives” of our culture in the same way that the 3 Israelite youths were threatened by the powers of Babylon with a trip “fiery furnace” if they did not bow to a golden image. How many Black men are killed by people filled with fear that is derived from false stereotypes and deep-seeded racist myths that American culture has perpetuated for centuries? In the days preceding the grand jury’s decision, our whole community was overwhelmed with fear. These fears were fueled by lies that that stand in opposition to God’s Word.
Standing against fear is Love. I’m not referring to “the age of Aquarius” love which was ultimately found to be impotent and self-serving. I’m talking about the love that we find in the power of the gospel. Love in the gospel is both unconditional and accountable. In Christ, I have love that is lavished on me despite being opposed to God in my sin. That same love creates a relationship of accountability to respond with unconditional love toward my enemy. Christ demonstrated this love on the cross and his resurrection empowers us through his Spirit to reject the lie of fear and to say to the powers of fear, “You can throw me in the furnace, but I will not bow to you. I will love the Lord and love my enemy without being afraid of the consequences.”
In worship services, we express this by affirming that all authority belongs to the Lord Jesus. No other power can stand in opposition to his glorious reign. We need not respond with violence to any perceived threat from someone who the culture tells me to fear. Because we are one with the Lord of heaven, we can say, “We would rather die than to give in to fear.” We can also boast in His victory over every power even as we grieve the realities of injustice. Sing with joy for the King reigns over all the earth. As Psalm 2 says, we serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling because He is the only power worthy of our reverent fear. His throne is established in Love and the submission to anything other than his authority and reign is a rejection of Love.
Death vs. Life
#BlackLivesMatter has been one of the phrases that has framed much of the frustrations of Americans in response to the deaths of several Black men this year at the hands of police. Even if you believe that the police officers were justified in their actions against these men, you have to affirm that life matters and death is the enemy. Any death is tragic. Even the most evil murderers in history were victims of the power of death both in their sinful acts against others and in the deaths that they themselves suffered. Death reigns in disease, in famine, in disasters, and even in the slow progress of time. Death was let loose on the earth by humans in the actions of Adam and Eve. All throughout history, the powerful have brought death to the weak in order to subjugate. In response, the weak have consolidated their power to bring a reign of terror to their oppressors ultimately becoming that which they have feared and despised. At the end of all that conflict, only one victor stands over the field of battle: Death.
However, we serve the Lord of Life. The whole of scriptures affirm over and over that the one true God is about Life and not Death. His whole plan from Genesis to Revelation is the renewal of eternal life to both individuals and to all of creation. Black lives and the lives of all people matter to God. His agenda is always for life and who ever has the power of life in their hands will have to give account for their actions to the God of Life. Jesus was never going to lead a bloody revolution to defeat Rome by the sword. He ultimately used death against itself, undoing it by the power of the resurrection.
In worship, we can respond to #BlackLivesMatter by affirming that Death has no victory or sting. We go back to the cross and the empty tomb over and over to remember that no matter how many lives are lost to oppression, the perishable will be raised again imperishable. This is not to deny the pain of grief and loss. Nor is it about brushing off the anger that comes from murder and other unjust deaths. Rather, the resurrection is a firm foundation in the midst of the shifting sands of history and culture. The resurrection has been the confidence for Christians throughout the ages to stand against violent oppression from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. Sing with joy knowing that Death is ended! No power that holds death in its hand will ever win the victory over the God of Life.
Fear and Death are the ultimate diseases that produce the symptoms that we have in our community today: racism, violence, oppression, injustice, vengeance, vandalism, discrimination, etc. Protestors have been shutting down interstates and staging “die-ins” around our country to bring attention to these symptoms. If we respond to symptoms without the power of Love and Life found in the gospel, which are the antidote to Fear and Death, then we will only be treating the surface issues. As worship leaders or planners, we can lead songs, prayers, and creeds to reaffirm Love and Life in the church. May the Lord bring crowds of “sick” into our services in order to receive healing.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5
Mourning and dancing
Weeping and joy
Death and life
Weakness and strength
Fear and confidence
The question hangs in the air unanswered, “What profit is there in my death?” I’ve seen mourning and dancing this year. I’ve seen dreams fulfilled and dreams broken. This weekend, a friend came very close to death, and yet he was spared. This weekend, we’ll be singing a song that always reminds me of a friend who is no long with us. Death and mourning looms over all that we do on this earth and yet our lives can be filled with such joy and dancing.
David’s psalm was written for the dedication of the temple, the same temple that David was told that he would not be allowed to build in his lifetime. He was faced with his mortality and his losses as well as his glory days and successes. The transition from mourning to dancing is not just positive thinking it’s actually a process that only comes through doing the hard work of grieving and crying out to the Father. It’s taking the death that lurks in the shadows of our daily lives and offering it up to God in faith that his anger last a moment but his favor is for a lifetime.
A Psalm of David. A song at the dedication of the temple.
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
My grandmother passed away yesterday. She had run a long race, 94 years. Her death closes the book on a generation on my mom’s side.
My grandmother was a redhead. I never saw her red hair because by the time they had color photography, her hair was completely white. She was a beautiful, creative woman who married a elvish-looking school principle with a mischievous sense of humor and an infectious laugh. They waited for years to married while my grandfather was a teletype repairman in Italy during WWII. My grandfather was on a boat in the Atlantic heading to the Pacific conflict when the war ended. His was one of the first boats to pull in to port in NYC during the celebrations. He was probably thinking of a certain redhead on Long Island.
My mom was born into the back woods of Kentucky. At that time, My grandparents were missionaries to people who were not far removed from the Hatfields and the McCoys. Grandma and her sister Phyllis, eventually self-published a memoir of their experiences in Kentucky.
I got to know my grandmother when they moved to Chattanooga, just down the street from us. I remember her as a kinetic force of domesticity. She was constantly cooking, sewing, or gardening. We would go to their house and play Upwords, Rumicube and Scategories. Eventually, around the time I graduated high school, my grandma and grandpa and my great aunt Phyllis sold their place and moved into a big St Elmo four square home with my parents. My college years involved an interesting blended household in which octogenarians coexisted in the same home with boomers and gen-Xers. My mother was the administrator, ambassador, and counselor for all 6 of us. Eventually, as Phyllis and my grandfather began to physically slip into dementia and Parkinson’s, my mom and my grandma became 24 hour care-givers.
Since my grandfather died, my grandmother has been living out her days in a nursing home in north Georgia. Mom went to see her every other day, going horse from shouting into grandma’s “pocket-talker” and bringing pictures and news of great grand children and prayer requests to keep her occupied. Eventually, she couldn’t see well enough to read. She had become unable to serve or be productive in any way other than prayer.
Two weeks ago, we were celebrating Thanksgiving. My dad brought Grandma over for a few hours. The last conversation I had with her was to make sure that she saw my daughter’s skirt. It was hand-made by my wife so I knew that Grandma would be interested in it. Grandma sat there in her in wheelchair watching her great grand children run circles around her with light-sabers and princess dresses.
Grandma loved Jesus. Now, maybe she’s the one running circles around his throne. Her hair is red again, her hearing is restored. Gilbert and Phyllis are there and Great Grandpa and Grandma Anderson. Maybe she’s baking or sewing a dress. Her life was a monument to God’s grace and to the power of prayer.
Thank you, grandma. We miss you.