We’re all going to die.
For those who remain during this global pandemic that has now claimed the lives of more than six million fellow human beings, the Lenten season is just another reason we should focus on our mortality.
Our inevitable death can take on new meaning.
Before the pandemic, we all waited. We waited for things to get better. We waited for our devotion or dedication to be reciprocated. We waited for the raise, the promotion, the recognition we worked so hard for. We waited for better days.
Then, the pandemic came, and we realized that people, places and things were not going to change for the better. It was about to get much worse. We all had to make tough, you only live once and once in a lifetime decision.
Should I stay on the job? Should I stay in this relationship? Should I keep doing the same thing in hopes of a different result? Should I wait for someone else to make the right decision for me?
The answer for millions of Americans who left their jobs, left dead-end relationships or left the church was a resounding, “no.” The pandemic, the threat of being infected by a deadly virus, reminded us that we were running out of time.
We would meet our own needs. We would live life on our own terms and under the conditions that were most supportive of our mental health and our family.
Capitalism, the government, the job, the significant other or the church wasn’t going to save us. We had told them what we needed to live, to feel loved and to keep the faith, and nothing had changed.
The traditional way of doing things — just keep spending, keep voting for the same politicians, keep trusting the process, keep asking for what you need, keep attending — wasn’t working.
During the lockdown, the distance created by our computer screens allowed us to see so much of life differently. We didn’t realize how bad it was or how bad it made us feel. Our pursuit of happiness, our passion for living, our love was slowly dying.
Knowing you are going to die will warrant clear-eyed assessments. Jesus knew he was going to die and look how his life turned out.
His disciples want to be just like him. Before basketball fans wanted to “be like Mike,” Jesus’ followers wanted to be Christlike.
Our baptism is a reenactment of his death. We eat his last meal in memory of him and repeat his dying words with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. The season of Lent is a kind of 40-day pilgrimage to relive his inevitable death.
Jesus’ suffering is a deep and abiding memory. He didn’t wait to the end of his life to think about his death. Jesus knew it was coming, though he didn’t have it coming.
His disciples were told to pass along the message. Matthew said that Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day, he will be raised” (17:22-23, NRSV).
Fleming Rutledge reminds us in The Undoing of Death, “Death is one of the main characters in the Biblical drama. Death stalks around everywhere, threatening to destroy everything. The Bible is blunt about death. ‘He stinketh for he has been dead four days.’”
Death will come to us all. It came to Martin Luther King Jr. 54 years ago on April 4, 1968. He talked about it often with his friends and to the crowd who gathered to hear him.
His famous last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” was delivered on April 3 at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ Headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee.
King said to those who gathered, “And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers. Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop.”
While the “I Have a Dream” speech is often referenced as a prophetic address to American society, there is something to be said for this farewell address, his parting speech.
In it, we bear witness to the defeat of death, which from the mountaintop has no sting.
Though King has not lived life to the fullest, he has lived a life so full of meaning. And that is the difference facing our inevitable death makes.