Yesterday morning I had the privilege of looking a bunch of people in the eye one-by-one and smudging up their foreheads a bit as I called them by name and told them, “I just want to remind you: you are going to die. Soon.”
Okay, no, I didn’t say that. I said it the proper, church-y way: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But, because I had mentioned in my homily how much preaching an Ash Wednesday service reminds me of preaching a funeral, and that that is exactly what the words and the ashes mean, I did have one of my parishioners smile back at me and reply, “Yup. Sooner rather than later.”
Laughing at death in a church. I think that’s exactly where we should laugh at death, because, no, it doesn’t seem right to laugh at death at a funeral. There is, after all, a time to grieve. But we do laugh and rejoice in the face of death, not because death has no power, but because it has no ultimate power (Life:Death::Lightning:Lightning Bug). There is a certain amount that Christians really do need to “Eat, drink, and be merry” in the face of death’s nearness.
It’s a combination of preaching week after week for all but four Sundays since last July plus spending some time lately with the Apostolic Fathers and now Justin Martyr that makes me see just how deeply strange is this thing we call Christian life. All the stories are strange, but old stories from any source are always strange. No, the strangest part of this Christian life is not those old stories but how we say they are not old–they are new and they are our story.
The things Christians do and call faithful worship evidence their truth in the reality that if we are not pointing to and participating in the Truth, then we are an ornate, expensive, time-wasting, needlessly painful circus act. Early Christians knew this as they gathered together and shared the Lord’s Supper, still repeating “This is my body. This is my blood.” They claimed his Body and Blood were true food and drink, fully aware that they were being accused of cannibalism. They sang songs and found joy and peace and hope in their loser God-Man (which is what again?), fully aware they were being called godless for rejecting all their culture’s gods in favor of this one god who was weak enough and dumb enough to get killed.
But for those early Christians, and for twenty-one Copts this week, and for each one of us who worships Jesus Christ, we believe that the God Who Has Died is the only god who can meet us even in death, the only god who has any right at all to tell us about Life.