Memento mori and dealing with death.

I attended the funeral of my paternal grandmother this week. Once again I was confronted by my own mortality. The Latin phrase ‘memento mori’ meaning ‘remember that you have to die’ is a reminder to us all.

My grandmother was a committed Christian and so the first scripture that came to my mind was Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

As Christians, we have been baptised into the death of Christ. Our baptisms symbolise the dying of our old self and the rising of the new. When we remember our baptisms, we remember that we have died to our sinful natures and lusts and risen again to a new life. Our old allegiances to the things of the world have gone and we have sworn allegiance to King Jesus of the House of David. He is our Sovereign Lord and Master.

Those who have attended an Ash Wednesday Service may have heard the words ‘memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris’ meaning ‘remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return’. We are all dust and we will return to dust.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 says:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

Just as the tent, that is the Tabernacle, received the Spirit of God through the wilderness wanderings Israel set aside the tent, the tabernacle and built the permanent Temple. In the same way, our current bodies, those tents made of dust will be set aside and clothed in immortal permanent bodies like the Temple. One day we will live on the New Earth, the true Promised Land but until then we are exiles and wanderers.

C. S. Lewis once said, “What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It puts several deaths earlier, but I hardly suppose that is what we fear.”

The death rate is 100% and it does not change. For Christians however we have the hope given to us by our King Jesus in John 11:25-26:

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.

Our resurrection is assured. King Jesus has overcome death itself. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57:

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?… But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The end of The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis ends:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

I love that ending. To describe death as “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” How truly beautiful that is. He adds “now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Who does not want to be a part of that story!

We in Christ will rise because Christ has Risen!