Death is a demonic power in the cosmos that holds all things subject to its lordship. Its dominion is inescapable. Many say death is a part of life or death begins at birth. Others remind us of the totality of existence: your born, you suffer, you die.
Yet we evade death, denying its existence we attempt damn it to hell (where it ultimately belongs). We buy fancy cars, houses, boats, and clothes; we get enraptured in the latest romantic book or movie; we invest our whole selves into careers to the neglect of our families; we party and play, betting all we have on red; we distract ourselves from the reality that a day is coming when our shallow lives will consummate six feet under. How can the thought of death so easily be avoided?
Death’s distance from our day to day derives from a denial of the desolation depicted daily to the disenfranchised who are dominated by our delegation of such a demise, as we devour their due by unduly indulging in the demon of the American dream.
For the marginalized of this world, death is a “d-word” that cannot be separated from reality. Preventable disease, unsafe work conditions, violence waged over resources, and hunger are some examples of why death is hard to avoid in other parts of the world or in the margins of our society. Wake up calls such as the surprise of a family member suddenly dying in a car accident, the onset of cancer, or a natural disaster, rudely remind us that death is still our overlord no matter the methods we employ to usurp its power.
But, as Christians, we believe in the death of death. Death’s defeat came at the hands of its own doing. The Prince of Death, the Demon of all demons, plotted to conquer Life. However, Death could not hold Life down and as a result, death’s plot to annihilate Life led to its own reversal: death died. Christ passed away under the curse of the power of death but rose to resurrected Life, and in so doing, overcame that which attempted to destroy him. Christ was first and on an unknown day in the future, Christians and the cosmos will experience the same triumph of Life.
We are a culture that likes dying. We affirm this in the US of A each time we send our children off to war. Young women and men go oversees to places where death is indisputable (often partially because of our over-indulgence) with a mission to secure the very resources that help us to feel like we can flee from facing fatality. So, to ensure we can “live it up” we invite our young to risk “dying it up” to stabilize the inflow of goods. Sadly, the church has bought into this death-cycle and often gives soldiers the status of Christian martyrdom. Ironically, the only martyrs in the early church had no swords in their hands.
On Memorial Day 2011, may we mourn that good women and men have died for things other than the cross of Christ and allow this truth to break our hearts as this may be the greatest form of honor we can bestow. May we proclaim in a unified and amplified voice that we believe in the death of death! Not through methods of consumerist evacuations, but through the upside-down power of the resurrected Christ. May Memorial Day invite us to ask: What’s worth dying for? And may Jesus nudge us toward one of few answers to that question: the weak and powerless of the world who couldn’t aim for the American Dream even if they wanted to.