The Old Interrupter
Sometimes with the suddenness of a Mack truck, other times with the gentle erosion of breaths that slow down oh so gradually until finally there are no more: suddenly or slowly, sooner or later, death comes. And when it does, a nexus of life is interrupted.
A friend told me once about the day after his father died. A boy then, my friend stayed home from school. He looked out a window and saw other school children and adults and, I suppose, buses and cars, all going about their morning activities as if everything were the same. But for my friend, life was not at all the same. For him, for his family, and for those within the circle of their life, death had interrupted everything.
It is essential that death interrupt. And it is wise for us not to try to tame the interruption, but to allow it to come to us; wise, that is, to let our own lives be interrupted. As we say at the top of the burial liturgy, “In the midst of life we are in death.”
We employ a lot of our technology in order to try to gain control over things. Roads, bridges, airports, rail lines—these are technological achievements to gain control over space, so that we can move about more widely, more often, and with more predictability. The technology of medicine not only repairs injury, it works to make health itself more secure, more under our control. I could multiply examples, but the point is clear. Our society as a whole seeks to bring more and more of human life under control.
Death, some have said, is the final frontier. And in the effort to bring death under our control, to take away from it the uncertainty of its coming, and the uncertainties of pain and confusion and just plain lingering that may be the way it would approach, our society is increasingly thinking with approval about assistance in dying. This is to employ technology to help people take charge of their own deaths, to name the point at which their life will come to an end.
And if we humans were able to achieve that, to bring death under our control, to take away death’s essential character of an interrupter, then there is one word only that would be appropriate for us. That word was spoken by Jesus in a parable. It is “Fool.”
He was a great planner. His crops had flourished, his wealth increased, and his aspirations were unlimited. He said to himself that he would tear down his existing barns and build new ones. Just at that moment, the word came to him: You fool! Tonight your soul will be required of you.
His world was interrupted.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that my father, Marshall, is in a nursing home. Death seems not far away. I don’t like this uncertainty. I want him, first of all, not to die. And then, recognizing the frailty of his flesh, and rejoicing in his love of Jesus, I want him to go to the Lord. I pray that each day has a blessing for him.
Reader, you may understand this. You’ve been there, or you will be there, with someone who is dying. It seems to me of the highest importance that we neither avoid this encounter with death nor try to take control over it. There is something profoundly human, and respectful, and humble—and pious—that we find only by going through the waiting.
Out & about. In the meantime . . . Friday, March 31, at St. John’s Church in Dallas, at the 7 p.m. service of Stations of the Cross, I am to give a meditation on “Jesus Falls the Third Time.”
Sunday, April 2, at St Mark’s Church in Mount Pleasant, at 6 p.m., and then at noon the next day (Monday, April 3), I am to give two talks on “The Awfulness of Our Good God.” I plan on Sunday to give an overview of the problem of God and the sufferings of life, and to talk about my experience and why I love God still. Monday’s talk is to be more focused, looking at Jesus on the cross, his death for our salvation.
And looking a bit ahead, I am to preach at the contemporary 6 p.m. service on Good Friday at Incarnation in Dallas.