As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. – 2 Timothy 4:6 (NRSV)
It’s late October, nature’s dying time, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are growing short. Halloween, All Saints Day, and the Day of the Dead are just around the corner.
It seems to me that the Bible and our faith think about death in two quite different ways, which can be confusing.
One is death as a part of life. This is what Paul has in mind here as he says, “the time of my departure has come.” He will not live much longer. He has “fought the good fight and run the race.” He accepts his mortality.
Such death is still painful and sad. But it comes to us all. And in a way, death enriches life. On more than one occasion I left a home where death had come only to find sorrow mixed with joy.
But there’s another way Scripture views death. Not so much a natural part of life, but as a terrible power, a ruling power which Jesus came to battle and defeat.
It is this kind of Death that Paul taunts saying, “O death where is thy sting?” This Death as a power and dominion is manifest in grinding poverty, in violence, in life-destroying addictions, in leaders that lie and mislead, in shepherds that fleece the flock.
In our efforts to accept death as a part of life, we cannot forget the other face of Death, the death that Jesus confronted and defeated on the cross. It shall not prevail.
If we come, as Paul did, to peace with our own mortality, let us never come to peace with Death as the shattering power that distorts and destroys life as God intended it. Let us battle this Death to our final ounce of strength, so we might say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight and kept the faith.”
Help us to know when to make peace with death and when to never surrender. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book, Useful Wisdom: Letter to Young (and Not So Young) Ministers will be published early next year by Wipf and Stock. You can read and sign up for his blog at www.anthonybrobinson.com.