"All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law..."
Reflection by Donna Schaper
One of the great clichés about death is that we will die as we have lived. If grumpy during life, we will be grumpy at death. If generous during life, we will generous during death. Clichés are very helpful. They echo what Paul said to the Romans, about living with or without the law and dying with or without the law. I have never completely understood what Paul was trying to say about the law so I probably won't start now. He was at least saying this: Living by the law has to do with living with a people who have certain laws. Paul was trying to associate positively with the people of the law here, and he hauls in that big word "perish" to make his point.
I'll never forget my first mother-in-law's reaction to the discovery of a lump in her breast. We were summoned over, only to discover that she was furiously cleaning out her dresser drawers. I mean furiously. "Mom, what are you doing?" "I may have cancer," said she, "and I would die if people saw the condition of these drawers." People use the language, "I would die," with a kind of disrespect. She might die if she had breast cancer, not if she didn't de-clutter her drawers. Death sneaks in around other subjects, too. Consider that wonderful line, "This chocolate cake is to die for."
We are almost always talking about death, whether we are St. Paul protecting the law or people who discover a lump. There is a perennial lament about time, which sneaks its way into almost every conversation. We usually mean it when we say, "I don't have the time for that. I wish I did." Indeed, we don't have enough time.
Whatever our law or custom, living by something is more important than living by eternal youth or well-organized order. The way we live will affect the way we die.
O God, when we shiver a little with the fact that we will all perish, remind us to live for something beautiful, something ageless, something that connects us to a people. Amen.
About the Author
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Check out her blog, Grace at Table, at donnaschaper.com.