Timor Mortis Conturbat Me – The fear of death disturbs me.
From a Mediaeval Office of the Dead used by William Dunbar ‘Lament for the Makars’ late 15th Century.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
On September 12th we learned of the tragic death of our beloved sister Melissa. We have also lost this month three of our retired colleagues who had achieved great age – Woody Bartlett, Buck Belmore and Scott May. I count all of these people as friends as well as colleagues whom I have known personally. The three retirees were close to being contemporaries of mine. Earlier this year I passed the 6th anniversary of my son Iain’s death by his own hand and only this morning my sister reminded me of what would have been my father’s 108th birthday – he died in 2000; my mother in 1995. The first funeral I conducted as a newly ordained Deacon in 1965 was of a close high school and college friend, Kenneth, who had taken his own life at the age of 26. I share this with you because we are presently experiencing a ‘close up’ of our mortality – not least in the face of dread disease all around us. At this point in my own life it is no longer appropriate to say ‘ if something happens to me’ – it is now a matter of ‘when something happens to me.’ For good reason I quote William Dunbar – ‘Timor Mortis Conturbat Me.’ But I am a member of the Body of Christ. I am a beloved child of God. There are other words I can say – ‘All that the Father has given me shall come to me…’ ; ‘In the midst of life we are in death;; of whom may we seek for help but of you O Lord…’ ‘You know, Lord, the secrets of our hearts…’ And that wonderful collect: ‘O heavenly Father,whose blessed Son Jesus Christ wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus: Look we beseech you with compassion on those who are now in sorrow and affliction….’
If ever there were a time to return to the words and the promises of Jesus it is now when we are face to face with matters of life and death.
Someone repeated recently that the ‘whole thing is about life and death.’ What else is our Christian Faith about if it is not ultimately about life and death.
My friend Richard Holloway in his latest book ‘ Stories we tell Ourselves ‘ plunges into the history and traditions of religious movements asking the question; ‘Are these merely stories we tell ourselves to explain the great mysteries of creation – of life and death and of the ultimate meaning of our existence? He raises very deep and important questions and is brutally honest about much of our mythology and religion’s tendency to ‘historicize’ what was never meant to be other than myth. But at the end he says; ‘ I am a Christan because this is the story I try to live by. I am not suggesting that this way of following Jesus should convince you or anyone else….it is just that this is the story I now try feebly to live by. And that makes me a Christian….. I follow Jesus etsi deus non daretur.’ (cf Bonhoeffer).
In my encounter with N.T. Wright, four years ago I asked him directly what he believed about the credal statement: ‘ …the resurrection of the body, And the life everlasting’ or ‘ I look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come.’ His response was that he believes and teaches that death consists of ‘falling asleep’ to await the general resurrection and that Jesus and his apostles taught the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Like Richard and so many others of us who ‘want to know,’ I try (feebly) to live by this story. Because it is more than a story. This is the ‘myth’
that C.S. Lewis describes as the ‘true myth.’ This is nothing less than a promise of the Lord of Life – and I have come to know and trust the Lord of Life.
Blessings and my prayers,