I’ve been reading a daily Lent devotional to prepare for Holy Week, and I’m suddenly face-to-face with a topic few choose to explore, but that God inextricably surrounds.
We aren’t always comfortable looking toward the end of life. In fact, our media can portray death with so much padding it results in little consequence. If a character in Dragon Ball Z dies, there’s not much anguish because, well, he’ll likely be alive again by the end of the arc. Comic book characters meet grisly fates, but their stories can always be revamped and retold. And if your JRPG character hits 0 HP, don’t worry. Just revive them with Top Ramen.
I stumbled on a playthrough of a game called “Forgotten” – a small first-person experience of someone navigating the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Blinks of the eye take you from a home full of people to an empty late night. Your coffee spilled, but you don’t remember why. You enter your bathroom alone, then come out to find strangers in scrubs watering your plant and managing your kitchen. You go to sleep in your own bed and wake up living in a convalescent home.
My grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was about twelve years old, and she passed away my sophomore year of college. I couldn’t process the scope of such personal chaos, the way her mind gradually betrayed her. This deterioration make us uncomfortable – How do we handle it in our loved ones? How do we handle the idea it might happen to us?
I’m guilty of avoiding such thoughts in the usual, vivid bustle of life. Death still puts its pin in our tapestry, though, and we never know when the marker will come – or how much we’ll suffer heading toward it. But Christ gave us a clear admonition:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
“Take up their cross” – as in, a way to die, a type of execution. Crosses are prolific in western culture as symbols of comfort, of help and healing, of beauty, sometimes even of luck. They’re used to stir controversy and make statements. I don’t know how often they’re displayed as honest declarations of excruciating death. As my pastor once said, it would be like someone hanging a tiny electric chair around their neck for fashion.
Let’s be clear: we aren’t a suicidal faith. Suffering and literal death aren’t our means of salvation. But they are a calling – a demonstration that our lives are not our own, that we’ve been bought by Christ’s own humble suffering and death, if we choose to believe he is our only means of conquering what sin has wrought.
You and I don’t know when or how that final moment will come. But perhaps media “deaths” reflect this hidden truth: within every human consciousness, there’s an awareness of resurrection. Our death in Christ will end in glory. He is risen indeed.