The joy of death

I watched my mother die of terminal cancer a number of years ago. It was ugly and heart-wrenching. I know of others right now who are facing death’s door, and it’s grievous to consider. How could anything good come out of death, much less joy?

When I was in college, I read a book called The Denial of Death. The basic thesis was that so much of modern life tries to ignore or suppress the reality of death. It is the ultimate “living in denial.” And this is the root of so many of our anxieties and fears, our psychoses and neuroses. But I recall no solution being offered in the book.

Enter Jesus. There is nothing about him that lived in denial. He faced head on the reality of death. In fact, he said that’s why he came to earth. He then blazed a pioneering path through the terrifying darkness of death into the wide open landscape of the resurrection. But he said more.

He told us to follow the same path. And there he would give us his joy (see John 15:11). What in the world could that mean?

The  Scottish author George MacDonald perhaps gives us a clue in one of his novels, Wilfred Cumbermede. In a dream one night, Wilfred chases a bewitching beauty named Anastasia (from the Greek word for resurrection). He looks for her in room after room of a great palace until he finds her in a chapel completely wrapped in thick drapery. When he asks her name, she replies it is death, the one he has been chasing all his life. She beckons him to enter a dungeon door in the corner of the chapel. He follows as she leads them down endless dark stairs and passageways until they come to another door.

As it opens, there is a blast of radiant light, and Wilfred sees a landscape opening up of dazzling beauty, of water and wind, sun and hills. But the sight is short-lived. As Anastasia stands on the threshold, the drapery drops off. He finally sees her wondrous face only to watch her close the door. He is left outside, weeping convulsively, and then awakens from the dream.

Using the power of imagery, MacDonald is trying to tell the same truth: in choosing to follow Jesus into his death, we will find unspeakable joy.

But what could that mean in daily life? Stay tuned for next week’s blog!