Having been a pastor and professor for a couple of decades, I’ve heard (and spoken) my share of funeral sermons. At times, quite ironically it seems, death is almost personified and praised as the great deliverer, the one who relieves our loved ones of unbearable pain and suffering. And while I understand the “blessing” of death to cease suffering, I can’t help but think of the New Testament portrayal of death as “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26; cf. 2 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 20:14; 21:4). The story of Jesus’s response to the death of his friend Lazarus in John 11 brings not only comfort and hope but much-needed wisdom and perspective.
Eusebius describes the response of Christians to plague and persecution thus:
The most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick and gave strength to others died themselves having transferred to themselves their death.
In recent years, discussions concerning the relation between one’s sense of self and one’s body have become increasingly prosaic. We are in the midst of a ‘gender nonconformity’ cultural revolution that defies gender stereotypes, grounded in the belief that one’s true self is the inner person of thoughts, feelings, and desires. The very public transition of Bruce to Caitlyn, bathroom wars, boycotts, and the introduction of several controversial governmental policies attest to a crisis of identity that challenges nearly every aspect of society.
Terrible, too, was the sight of people dying like sheep through having caught the disease as a result of nursing others. This indeed caused more deaths than anything else. For when people were afraid to visit the sick, then they died with no one to look after them . . . . The bodies of the dying were heaped one on top of the other, and half-dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets or flocking around the fountains in their desire for water.