On the skeleton in the cupboard

Peterborough Cathedral graveyard PHOTO: Supplied
Peterborough Cathedral graveyard PHOTO: Supplied

I have been thinking about death (I’m Sarah and I’m here to cheer you up!). At this time of year we are surrounded by it, writes Canon Commisioner Sarah Brown. Despite the golden weather of late there is no denying that the days are shorter, the leaves are brown and the first frost will be along soon to kill any remaining flowers and herald the winter. The ice will freeze the blood in the veins and vulnerable people will fall in greater numbers than usual into the care of medics, undertakers and vicars.

It is no coincidence that the celebration of Halloween and the ancient Christian feast of All Souls, when we light candles for our dead, are at this time of the year’s decay. And of course, this week we remember those who have laid down their lives in war. In November the skeleton is truly out of the cupboard.

I hope that you don’t think I am crass to mention this unpalatable business. Generally we avoid facing death until it rudely forces its way into our lives. The trouble is that it comes as an awful shock and is not a bit ignorable, as you will know if you have been very ill or paced the corridors of a hospital, or watched someone you love deteriorate or had a phone call bearing terrible news.

Many people don’t believe in God and find the idea of resurrection ridiculous. But many also have an illogical expectation that there is life beyond death. The hope of eternity is wired into the human heart, yet a universe of allegedly random creation is frankly unlikely to offer any such thing. The only realistic chance of life beyond death is if someone loves us enough to make it happen. The Christian narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about that love and its new precedent that your death and mine need not be the end.

The real agony is for those of us who are left behind. Whether of faith or not, we are not fine when someone we love dies. There are well-meaning cards that say things like “death is nothing at all”. If you are left without the love of your life, a family member or a lifelong friend you will know what nonsense that is. If you are awaiting death it is not trivial. Even people of faith do not willingly leave this life unless they are exhausted by it. Death is a big deal and we should think and talk about it realistically and naturally as something that is part of all our lives.

So we remember those we love but we also face up to what will come to all of us. The great thing about this time of the year’s dying (apart from apple crumble, furry boots and bonfires) is that we know that, come January, the first signs of new life will be poking up through the snow again. The same is true of death. It must be met but will pass and bring hope of new life.

Commercial Christmas is apparently underway and it is tough for those who mourn. If you need comfort and hope more than Santa and tinsel, get in touch. Real Christmas is the antidote to death.