How to Die

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

1 John 3:2

“You are in this program to learn how to die.”

It may not have been the first day of class, but memory leads me to believe it was. We were college sophomores entering into the first of several sequences of classes required to earn a major in great texts of the Western tradition. Or, simply, a major in books.

You would think one of the key questions of such a major would be, “What makes a text great?” and over the years, I have been asked that more than anything else about what I studied. (Except, of course, what I would do with my degree.)

But we were told our focus wasn’t on what made a text great or what we would do if we ever figured out the answer but how to die. We were reading these texts—from Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, gnostics, Platonists, women, men, ancient, medieval, modern, postmodern—to learn how to die.

When I graduated, I found myself asking if I had learned how to die. I thought I had.

Then I met the woman I was going to marry and realized I had not—I feared the downed plane, the collapse in the hospital, the prospect of life or no life without her. Then I came to terms with death again, made room to recognize it once more.

Then the ultrasound of our first child, finding out he would be born with all kinds of difficulties, and once again I knew nothing about how to die.

We speak often of death in terms of to the world. Spiritual death. Denial of things. Abstention. We don’t speak often enough of death in terms of what it means. About physical death. Denial of body. Cessation.

Christians should know best how to die. Christians should know best how to die well. But so often we come across the specter fearful and unprepared, unsure of these things we say we believe. Death and all her friends come to visit, and we shut every door and window and pretend not to have heard the knock.

Christians can be good at answering, What makes a life great? and even, What will you do with it?

But how to die?

I still don’t know what it means to die, let alone to die well. But I do know that I want to.

I want to not fear death not only because of my certainty of life in Jesus but also because of my comfort with death’s ultimate defeat. Our answer begins and, perhaps, ends in the same place, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. Perhaps in that garden we learn how to die.

We were, spite it all, “born to die” as the song says. We may as well ask how.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever considered your preparedness for death? What do you think it means to die well?

PRAYER: O God, who knows the number of our hours and the measure of our days, grant that with sober joy and expectant hope we may prepare ourselves well for our union with you at the end of our lives and at the end of all things before your work of new creation begins, through Jesus Christ our Lord and the power of the Spirit. Amen.