I have taken many funerals in my time as a minister but I do not think I ever preached about death.
I have thought about this as I pondered what I called Henri Nouwen’s six stunning questions about death in my last blog. It is commonplace to say that death is the last taboo in our sort of society.
I am not sure. I think any national disaster where lives are lost on a large scale creates a lot of heart searching talk. As any listener to BBC Radio 5 Live will know; the stories of people coping with the loss of partners; living through grief and trying to come to terms with our mortality is the staple diet of their morning shows.
Yet surprisingly I would say that death is a taboo subject among Christians. As I say I cannot ever recall preaching about death or dying or being asked to lead a series of home meetings about the subject.
The nearest I can recall is when a daughter asked me at the end of her father’s funeral ‘he will be alright won’t he?’ What a question!
I wonder why I did not explore this subject with congregations. For one thing, I would know in every service there would be people in grief, coming out of grief and going into grief. It is very difficult to talk generally when as a minister I would know the specifics of particular people.
But I think there was a sort of conspiracy that encouraged silence on the matter. People did not want the subject opened up because either they were very unsure what they thought or believed whilst some were so assured of what would happen after death that there was no need to mention the subject.
In fact I think those who might have liked to ask the sort of questions that Nouwen was asking felt they couldn’t because they were put off by the confidence of others who just knew everything would be alright and heaven was just one long picnic with loved ones who had been waiting for awhile for them catch up.
Such belief may have comforted some but for others it raised more questions than it answered but they couldn’t bring themselves to appear to puncture such unquestioning trust in the Lord.
So silence descends.
But two thoughts stay
- In our society we are measured by our successes and our achievements but maybe we should be more concerned with the fruitfulness of our lives. The latter two are about the hand we are dealt and the opinion of others. We are not in control of either but we are responsible for the fruit of our living right up to the end. What did Macbeth say of Banquo?
“Nothing in his life became him as the leaving it”.
- Perhaps when it comes to considering what is really important to us we need to think less about length or width and more about depth. Not sure what I mean by that but I’ll keep thinking. Do you know what I mean?