The Resurrection, Christian Death, and Prayer

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and we shall rise with Him.

As Christians, this is our hope and our confidence. This is what we mean by living. This is our life in living and in dying.

Because of this, there is no reason for us to fear or avoid death. There is no reason for us to try to do whatever we can to put death off for as long as possible. For Christians, death is the consummation of life, the fulfillment of life, the entry into an experience of life more full and abundant. It is an event to be greeted with joy, to which to look forward. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, that we shall see Him upon death, and that we will be raised with Him to live forever with Him, then there is no reason for us to want to defer death, to escape death for the present moment, to flee from death.

This shapes our entire lives. For us, the thought of death is full of joy and expectation: the joy and expectation of seeing face to face and clearly the One whom we love, whom here we see only dimly (and, oh, the infinite joy of the dim glance of faith!) and of being perfected in His image, fully well-pleasing in Christ to the Father, no longer hindered or harmed by our sin.

We know that even now we have been crucified with Jesus and buried with Him through baptism into His death and raised with Him, and so we delight to live with Him on this earth, to serve Him, enjoy Him, labor with Him, and suffer with Him. Our desire to die is, in no way, a desire not to live. Rather, we have a reason to live and a joy in living, so that no matter what life brings, whatever weariness, whatever suffering, whatever horror, whatever loneliness, yet life is full of gladness to us: to live is Christ. There can never be any reason for us to despair of life, to seek or hasten the cessation or ending of our lives, to flee from life. We would gladly live a hundred or a thousand lives for Christ. We desire death, not because life is bad or distasteful to us, but because death is good to us: we also desire life, for life also is good. (Any desire to die which increases with the painfulness or – to us – present distastefulness of the circumstances of our lives is an evil, and is not a desire to die in keeping with belief in the Resurrection of the Lord in which we, too, share.)

There is no general reason to pray, either for ourselves or for other Christians, for escape from death, whether from illness or from accident or from other means. In specific cases, we may know that God wants us to pray for someone, whether ourselves or someone else, to not die, but continue living on earth, but it is not a general over-arching principle to pray for the postponement of death. In fact, a general over-arching practice of praying for God to delay the deaths of Christians is a kind of denial of the Resurrection: at least, it suggests a lack of belief that Jesus has risen from the dead and will raise us with Him. To us, death is not the end, and as surely as death comes to all men, so our bodies will rise again in the resurrection. Why, if we believe this, that death is the entry into the presence of our Beloved, and that Christ rose from the dead and our mortal bodies will be raised by the same power of His Resurrection, would we want to not die? God is Living and Personal, and He loves each person individually and personally; thus, His will is not just general, but specific, and so we may sometimes know that He wishes us to pray for the postponement of someone’s death: as surely as He has willed that you lived to this day and did not die some past day, He may wish you to pray that someone not die today or tomorrow. But, we do not, in general or as a principle, desire not to die. A time will come when all of us will die – a time appointed by the Love of God – and we do not want to pray against this, whether it comes in what we call old age or what we call youth, whether it comes by illness or accident or sword of man (or anything else). I mean “we do not want,” not in the sense in which people sometimes use it as a threat of sorts, such as, “You do not want to go against my will,” but in the sense that we really do not want to do this.

(Sometimes, we might pray not to die not because we do not, personally, want to die, but because we think that our continuance in living on this earth is necessary for the well-being of some others: what we really mean is, “God, do what is best for these whom You love and whom I love; my life on earth is best for them.” Unless we know, we should probably drop the “my life is best for them,” from our prayer. We are not wiser than God, and should not dictate to Him, though we have every right to pray back to Him what He has told us to pray, even as Elijah was told by God to pray for the rain to cease and for it to come, and he prayed, and the rain ceased and came.)

Apart from the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, death is a great evil, a horror, the sign and fruit of sin, which is evil itself and the greatest horror. This death is destruction and sign of the most horrible destruction, full of horror and dread, the very herald of hell, bringing distress, terror, fear, and inconsolable grief. However, transformed by the Death and Resurrection of the King of Glory, this utter horror, this gate of hell, has been made into inconceivable blessing, the gate of Heaven. The garments worn by a King are royal; when death touched the King of Glory, death became glorious and beautiful. For a Christian, death has no sting and no power of fear. We can greet death with dancing and song; it is the escort sent to bring us into the court of the Highest, the Most Beautiful, the Most Terrible, the Most Desirable, the King of Kings. Apart from Christ, death was the herald of hell; by Christ, death is the herald of Heaven. It brings us into closest identification with the Crucified King of Glory, He Who Died and Is Alive. Is there anything more to be desired than to be made like the King? Nay! Nothing!

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

“For we could desire to be separated from the body and at home with the Lord. So, whatever we do, whether in the body or out of the body, we make it our purpose to please the Lord.”

“Precious in the eyes of YHWH is the death of His saints.”

 

Copyright 2019 Raina Nightingale

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