They even have a name for it; it’s thanatophobia. Of course it’s based on the Greek word for death – Θανατος and φοβος – literally the fear of death. It can become so bad in a person that they are terrified of dying every waking moment. Horrible!
And yet, we live in such a death-denying culture we even comment at funeral homes “Doesn’t he look good?” We have sanitized death to the point that we don’t want to be confronted with this stark reminder of our own mortality. How different all of the advice of the Orthodox father when they advised to “Recall your exodus every hour; keep death before your eyes on a daily basis. Remember before whom you must appear.” St. Athanasios.
Look at our Scripture Lesson this morning in Isaiah 25:1-9:
O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will praise Your name; for You have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For You have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will glorify You; cities of ruthless nations will fear You. For You have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the blast of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, like heat in a dry place. You subdue the noise of the aliens; as heat by the shade of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
What a powerful passage AND I hope a clear indication to you that the idea of death being destroyed is not just a New Testament message, not at all. It has always been God’s intention to bring kill death and to set humanity free from this terrible fear once and for all. However please note that the freedom from death isn’t guaranteed to be a wonderful thing. Not at all. In fact, the Church tells us that God has CURSED humanity with Eternal Life! Indeed, since Christ, the path to the Tree of Life is open to humanity again and God has extended His destruction of death to every human. Period. So, now it isn’t a matter of living forever. That’s now guaranteed for all of us. Now the issue is properly preparing to live forever! You’re going to live forever. The question is will you know how to enjoy it.
No wonder the fathers teach us to remember our own mortality. No wonder they teach us to keep our Divine Appointment before our eyes every day. No wonder we always pray “For a good answer before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.” In a way, God has cursed humanity with eternal life if that humanity comes to eternity ill-prepared to enjoy it forever!
Today, as we continue our Lenten journey, it’s time to renew our sober preparations to enjoy God forever by actively participating in that way of life that teaches us how to enjoy the gift of eternity God has already given us! The Church litters our lives with opportunities, prayers, disciplines, people, stories, wisdom, and direction to help us come to that moment in our lives when we step beyond the daily struggles and face the eternal life granted to us all. We are all going to live forever. Our faith is clear; the only way to really enjoy eternity is by becoming Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. 12 Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Duluth, MN is our next stop this weekend as we celebrate their Centennial as a worshipping community. We will have several speaking events in the area and you are invited to attend. Go to https://www.12holyapostles.org/centennial.html for more information.
Father, I use to look forward and find hope in the coming eternal life. Now though, I find myself sometimes terribly afraid of eternity; scared of anything that isn’t this earth and this life. And it makes me feel fraudulent as a Christian, as if my faith has vanished and I only trust in myself. Will you (and any others reading this) pray that I may once again know the joy of the hope of the defeat of death?