Mortality and Sin

Read Genesis 3:19

Today Christians in all parts of the world attend services for Ash Wednesday. This day marks the start of the Lenten season in the Western Church. On this day we remember our mortality and the cause of death, sin. It is a day of reflection, solemnity, and humility. As part of the worship service, the person has ashes placed on their forehead or hand in the shape of a cross to serve as a visual reminder of our sin and death, but also the rescue found in the cross. When the imposition of the ashes takes place, the worship leader often says, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

When you read the verse for today from Genesis, you see the source of the phrase used on this day. This verse is part of the story of humanity’s choice to ignore God as a first step of disobedience  which we refer to as sin. God is explaining to the first humans the consequences of this choice. One of the consequences is death. God indicates we were from the earth and to the earth we will return. Our mortality is the consequence.

While this is an important day to acknowledge our mortality and our sin which has brought it into the human experience, that is not the last word. As I said, today marks the first day of a forty (Sundays are not included in the count.) day journey to the Easter celebration. The Easter celebration reminds us that Christ claimed victory over death and the cause of it, sin. Jesus’s obedience overcame our disobedience. This is why the cross is placed on us as a sign of victory even in the midst of our humble repentance today.

Is This It?

Seems that not a day goes by anymore which does not contain some message about death. Recently I have heard about the deaths of individuals who I attended worship alongside. There have been deaths of celebrities. Tragic deaths such as the ones occurring in California at a garlic festival and those of hikers in Canada have made the national news. Locally, living in a large metroplex, death from accidents and violent acts of humans are daily mentioned on the television or in the newspaper. At times, it seems that death surrounds us all the time. Actually, that is more accurate than we may wish to acknowledge.

I have been thinking about how we respond to death. These thoughts have included both our societal responses and the responses we have as individuals, specifically in regard to our faith. I worry occasionally that as a society we have become so accustomed to death that we hardly even notice it anymore. Yet, I also am aware that some of our apathy towards death stems not solely from the frequency of encounter but also from our unwillingness to look at it honestly. We do not wish to affirm the reality of death because in doing so we have to face our own mortality.

Facing our mortality requires us to think about what we concern regarding the afterlife. Since there is no solid proof about the afterlife, we are afraid. For a large number of people, this fear leads us to ignore or push thoughts of death out of our thinking. We adopt an attitude of if we do not confront death, we do not have to think about death. Death seems too unknown to us and the fear is overwhelming, so we attempt to push it aside.

As a society and as individuals, we often want to hide death. One example is in how we talk about death when a person is deceased. We use phrases such as, “He has passed on,” or “She has parted.” Our avoidance of using the word death is a way to lessen the reality. By reducing the finality of death, we can evade dealing with it.

I have a much different view towards death. My view of death is very dependent upon my understanding of my faith. Through my reading of the Scriptures, the development of my beliefs, and my own experiences, I see death as a transition. There is no finality in death for me. Instead, there exists a belief that at death a person transitions from an earthly existence into a spiritual realm. Since I believe in a bodily resurrection, this does not mean that a person only exists as a spirit in this spiritual realm but that the same joining of the body and spirit which occurred during our earthly birth happens within the spiritual realm. I also believe that in this spiritual realm a person experiences the fullness of God.

Due to my understandings and beliefs in regard to death, death is not something I fear either for myself or those whom I love. Just because I do not fear death does not mean that I do not grieve when a person dies. I grieve though not because I fear what happens at the point of death and after, I grieve because I know that for a period of time I will be separated from that person. Once fear has been removed, the grief is a little easier to bear. Once fear is removed, you can talk honestly about death and the afterlife.