Four weeks ago, Mike-- our handyman at Anawim and good friend-- fell and hit his head on a sidewalk near our house. He happened to fall in front of the police, who saw he wasn't getting up, so they picked him up and took him to the hospital. It turned out he had blood on his brain, which caused a severe memory lapse. Health-wise, he wasn't doing well, so the kept him in ICU.
Mike also drank daily, and being without alcohol put him into shock. They sedated him in the hospital, but his body wasn't really equipped to deal with such a sudden change. Complications arose, and his heart stopped, with no oxygen going to his brain for a short period of time. He remained sedated for a week, and when he came out, he didn't respond to anyone. He is alive, but he isn't there. Today they will take out his ventilator tube and he will die.
I thought I was prepared for this, but I'm really not. I could see that he wasn't doing well, for over a year. I knew that he was going to pass on, one of these days. But now that it's happening, I'm really not sure what to do or say, especially to his daughter, Sarah, who hasn't seen him for 15 years, who now is making life and death decisions for her father. Or to his grandsons whom he has never seen, never met.
If he had just dropped dead, or not woken up one day, I was ready for that. But death doesn't seem to work that way anymore. I've had dozens of my friends die, but usually it is sudden, or they make choices to (basically) end their lives by their actions. Mike wasn't like that, neither was Rick who was in my house last year. And death isn't sudden, but a long, drawn out process. When we have hope and very, very gradually, that hope is dashed until we realize that they will linger, as different people, and just fade away, as completely different people than who they were the rest of their lives.
The problem in our lives is not dying, but Death. Death n the Bible isn't the sister of The Sandman, who shows up to lead us to the next life. Nor does Death wear a robe and carry a scythe. Rather, Death is the name of the power that makes our life a living hell.
"My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death." (Psalm 22:15)
"You have crushed us in a place of jackals And covered us with the shadow of death." (Psalm 44:19)
"The cords of death encompassed me And the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow." (Psalm 116:3)
Death is separation from family. Death is going to the hospital, and they make you worse instead of better. Death is senility, living without the power to think, living with memories instead of those who are in front of you. Death is having to look over your shoulder because you are of the wrong race, the wrong social class.
Dying is, or can be, our friend. It is the passage to the rest that we so desperately need.
Death is our enemy. It is he who tears our lives to pieces. Who makes us so desperate for rest. Death is lying in bed, doing nothing, but there is no peace or comfort. Rest is beyond our grasp, no matter how much we sleep.
It was once said, "I'd love to have eternal life, if only I didn't have to die first." But dying is the glory of the gospel. It is the passage to our hope, our rest. The ultimate goal of the gospel is the defeat of Death. "The final enemy to be abolished is Death."
Honestly, I can't wait.