Should we fear death?

death blessing2

After posting the blog yesterday I have been thinking about death. None of wants to die. It is the unknown and we don’t like the unknown. So far as I know no one (except Jesus–if you are Christian) has ever come back from the dead and no one has told us what is there. Most Christians believe in a heaven although I don’t know if anyone has ever defined it. Some religions think of the afterlife as becoming part of God/cosmos/whatever. Some believe that we are reincarnated and come back as other people. Some of my friends want to come back as one of my husband’s dogs—he spoils them terribly. The point is none of us really knows the answer.

I have seen things worse than death. Some medical problems are so awful that death would be preferable. I think that is obvious since some states allow euthanasia. I am not going to get into the moral issues with that. I just want us to realize that sometimes death is a friend.  And really, even though I fear illness I am not sure that I fear death. After all either there is something or there is nothing.

As a nurse I have been with people when they died and I never saw anything except a peaceful death. It’s getting to that point that we fight against it and do our best to ignore and avoid it but when death comes most people are peaceful.

In our culture we try to push death away. We go to the funeral home and look at a body that has been preserved and people say “doesn’t sh/he look wonderful?” I am glad that many people opt for cremation and my best friend’s daughter asked for her ashes to be planted with a young tree. She wanted to be at the root of new life.

I know this has seemed like a morbid subject and I hope you can see beyond that. I am including one of my favorite poems by black poet and preacher James Weldon Johnson. If you have never read his poetry (and sermons in verse) you are missing out.

Go Down, Death

James Weldon Johnson1871 – 1938

 (A Funeral Sermon)

Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband--weep no more;
Grief-stricken son--weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter --weep no more;
She only just gone home.

Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great, high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eye fell on Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God’s big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.

And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death!--Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.

And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horses struck fire from the gold,
But they didn’t make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God’s command.

And God said: Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She’s borne the burden and heat of the day,
She’s labored long in my vineyard,
And she’s tired--
She’s weary--
Go down, Death, and bring her to me.

And Death didn’t say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven’s pearly gates,
Past suns and moons and stars;
on Death rode,
Leaving the lightning’s flash behind;
Straight down he came.

While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn’t see;
She saw Old Death.  She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn’t frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I’m going home,
And she smiled and closed her eyes.

And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn’t feel no chill.
And death began to ride again--
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.

And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.

Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.

From God’s Trombones by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1927 The Viking Press, Inc., renewed 1955 by Grace Nail Johnson.

I want this read at my funeral.

6 thoughts on “Should we fear death?”

  1. I’ve read this poem before by James Weldon Johnson, and I love it. What an unshakable hope we have to know that even death stands at God’s beck and call.

    Like

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