Can you answer honestly the question ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ An old and much loved Easter hymn contains the words: ‘death hath lost its sting’. It is referring to the fact that by dying and rising again Jesus took away the power of death. Without Jesus’s action we are paralysed by our fear of death. Life cannot be enjoyed to the full because death hangs over us like a guillotine.
In our society we don’t talk about death so even when a person is very old or seriously ill death comes as a shock. We have not considered that death is a stage of life. The present pandemic situation colours and accentuates our reactions. We are overwhelmed that so many people can disappear so quickly and irretrievably.
I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating: If I define myself in terms of the roles I play – mother daughter wife – and my existence and identity depend on my being a daughter, mother, sister, wife then the death of a parent, child, sibling, spouse will include the death of that part of me.
No wonder I am shocked.
I can no longer identify myself in terms of the relationship with that other person.
As they grow older, late teens or early twenties, children cut the apron strings so our relationships with them change. Cutting those apron strings means that identity is no longer dependent on those relationships and we may even prepare to let the other person go. However if our identity is grounded in, dependent on, those relationships we will feel the death of those people even more keenly. We feel death’s sting. We may even feel that part of us has been destroyed.
Grounded in, dependent on, God our identity is no longer dependent on others. This does not mean that we won’t react to their death, nor does it mean we won’t miss them. We are sorry that they are no longer a part of our world, but we remember the good times we were privileged to share with them. Our memories are creative and constructive and they draw death’s sting. The answer to ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ is that death no longer has power to harm us – death has lost its sting.