Death comes to us all, but that does not mean we should embrace it as something to be celebrated. The Scriptures tell us that death was a distortion of God’s good creation brought into the world by sin and the devil (Gen 3). The devil now has the “the power of death” (Heb 2:14) and he seeks to weave death into all parts of our society, and he is doing it quite efficiently. Mass killings are now common place in our society. The horrific events are streamed onto our televisions. Video games, movies, television shows and music turn graphic murder into popular entertainment. Instead of boxing being the most violent sport that our culture allows, now mixed martial arts is mainstream. Abortion and assisted suicide are considered part of our culture’s health care. Our six year-olds play games on their phones depicting a zombie apocalypse. Death is everywhere, and the devil rejoices.
Followers of Christ are called to stand against a culture of death. While the devil comes to “steal, kill and destroy,” Jesus came to bring “life and that more abundantly” (John 10:10). In the early decades after the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the first Christians were surrounded by a culture of death. In the Roman Empire public executions were common. Unwanted babies were cast aside. Spectator sport in the coliseum included animals fighting to the death, soldiers killing one another, and followers of Jesus being burned at the sake. And the united response of the followers of Jesus was to resist the culture of death. They refused to participate in entertainment that celebrated death. They were willing to take in and care for babies that others decided they didn’t want. When disease and plague swept through the empire, followers of Jesus showed amazing courage to care for the diseased and dying while others fled to protect their lives. Death didn’t hold power over the followers of Jesus. How was this so?
In the Gospel, the good news of salvation, we are told that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, chose to be lowered under the angels for a time, and to suffer the death that humanity deserved on the cross. He was then exalted and crowned “because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9). This passage goes on to tell us, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (v 14). Death is the enemy and it is wielded by the devil. But God turned the script upside down by taking death upon Himself and setting free everyone that receives His sacrificial death by faith. This conviction, not just affirmed as an idea, but embraced wholeheartedly, transformed the early followers of Jesus. They were fearless in the face of death, knowing that even if their physical bodies were killed, their souls were cleansed and they would live forever before their beloved Lord. This deep affirmation gave them courage to stand against and be rejected by the culture of death that surrounded them.
May followers of Christ today be so moved by the Gospel that we too are willing to stand against a culture of death. May we celebrate life from conception until natural death. May we resist the many ways that death and murder as fascination and entertainment want to make their way into our minds and behaviors. And may we be thoughtful and resolute in finding ways to push killing out of our cities.
Together in the Journey,
Fr. Cam Lemons