Sunday, 20 March: “Fear of death”

Reading – Hebrews 2:10-11, 14-15

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

“Entry of Christ into Jerusalem” by Pietro Lorenzetti, c. 1320

Everyone fears death at some point in their life, and everyone has to deal with the reality of death at some point in their life, perhaps the same point as in the first case, perhaps not. Fear of death is a natural human fear (and, generally, a natural biological fear): it is the end of our temporal existence, of our physical presence in this world, of our knowledge. No one knows for certain what occurs after death, adding to its mystery and keeping our fear quite alive and very well. This fear can drive us to extreme behavior: intense diet or exercise regimes, plastic surgery in abundance, even cryogenics.

This obsession with death only increases our fear and decreases our overall health. Whereas religions like Confuciansim don’t really bother with what comes after death but focus on making life good here and now and religions like Islam look beyond death to an eternal afterlife, this lifestyle, these evasion techniques, make death the center of life in their fear of it. Fear becomes a god.

Fear of death pushes out any notion of lasting or stable happiness, leaving one in a constant state of dread and preparation. It’s time to take this pill, do this exercise, prepare this set of meals for the week, visit the doctor for this touch-up surgery, read this article about extending longevity, take this other pill, then go to bed for the prescribed number of hours. Fear of death demands the sacrifice of one’s time, energy, resources, life to itself. We become its worshippers and slaves.

Fear to me seems to be an even greater and more prevalent problem than pride, and pride itself appears to me the overinflated fear of losing one’s dignity, one’s self and thus, in effect, dying. We are scared that nothing comes after death, that we are alone, that God does not care, that God does not exist, that all we see – even the universe itself – will cease to exist and nothing more will ever exist, that nothing has meaning because at some point nothing will be. We thus shrink from God, not trusting our lives, the only thing we really seem to have, in Her hands, hands we cannot perceive often, if at all.

How are we to be free from fear of death, free from any fear, free from sin? The Letter to the Hebrews tells us: Jesus.

God comes into created, biological existence, knowing fully that to do so means to also pass into non-existence, to die. God does so as a human, a creature fully aware of death and acutely prone to the fear of death. Jesus, fully human, felt this fear and the temptation to let it become his god. Jesus, fully divine, still put all his faith and life in God, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus thus inverted death and transformed it, showing it to us as the way to everlasting life.

We who have let the fear of death control us for so long now can break free from slavery to live fully in God. Suffering and death will still be part of our lives, but they do not have to define or dominate them. We can live and move beyond these things by the grace of Jesus, placing our trust, as he did, in God – not fully knowing what comes at death, not wholly unafraid to end our lives here, but trusting God all the same.

May we trust you Lord, please, that you may free us from the slavery of death and bring us to life everlasting. ~


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