I am a bit fascinated with sugar skulls. Have you ever seen one? They are morbidly beautiful. They combine the darkness of death with the beauty of color and design.
Whenever I see them they make me think about death and the Christian. Death is such a horribly ugly thing. It is often preceded by sickness or tragedy leaving grief, loneliness, and despair in its wake. No one really wants to spend much time talking or thinking about it.
We know from scripture that part of the curse spoken to Adam and Eve is that mankind can only leave this world through death (Gen. 3). In the New Testament we read that it is appointed for everyone to die once and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27).
“Death follows sin, as the shadow follows the body.”
- Thomas Boston
Death is the great equalizer. Those who live in palaces and those who wander the streets will all, at some point, “go to the house appointed for all living” (Job 30:23). It is a curse which can only be broken with the return of Jesus. Even now death has a master and can do nothing without first receiving its orders from God. It cannot come a second before its appointed time.
As ugly as death is, the Christian can find beauty in it. Consider the following five reflections, for when I see them together I don’t have to paint a happy face on death. I can see the beauty of grace in it.
The sting of death is gone
Though God’s people must die, Christ has taken away the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:55-56). It is a dark reality, but the bitterness of death is made sweet by the work of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. Death is not a doorway to judgment for the Christian, but entrance into the very presence of God. Sure, death carries pain with it, but it has no real power. As a teenager death stole my dad from me, but it is only a temporary parting. I will be reunited with my dad in a not so distant future and I‘m looking forward to introducing him and my husband.
I won’t travel alone
Part of what makes death frightening is that we are leaving this world. But as a Christian I will not face death alone. Jesus has died before me and for me. He, the friend of this sinner, knows what I face and is waiting for me on the other side.
“Jesus Christ, their best Friend, is Lord of the land to which death carries them.”
- Thomas Boston
I will travel safely
Though I will one day have to go through the valley of the shadow of death, our Lord will protect me so that I will not need to fear evil. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.”
Death may separate the soul from the body for a time, but our Redeemer watches over all who belong to him. He will one day return our bodies to us, only they will be perfected.
Death is the end of all trouble and the beginning of a perfect life
Where does death take us as Christians? It is the portal to our eternal home. I tend to forget that this earthly place is not really my home. We are but strangers passing through, waiting for our Redeemer to call us home. And when he calls, we can respond without fear. The last words of John Knox were, “Live in Christ, die in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.”
My dying day is my best day
For a woman of God her dying day is her best day. (Eccl. 7:1) It is when she arrives in glory to the sounds of myriads of people singing praises. Death, says Thomas Boston, is one of those things that works together for our good. It is the day that the bride meets her bridegroom, where the heir receives his inheritance, where child is united with her father. This is beautiful.
Do not let Satan have a hold on your heart and fill it with fear of death. I know that fear well. It will take away the joys God intends you to experience now. “Do your worst,” I say. I have a Saviour who has conquered all. He holds death on a leash, and will hold my hand when my times comes. He will embrace me in his arms when I finally arrive at home.