Remember You Will Die: How Christ Reshapes Death

“Lord, accept me in repentance. Lord, do not abandon me. Lord, lead me not into temptation. Lord, grant me good thoughts. Lord, grant me tears, remembrance of death, and compunction…”

~Orthodox Christian Prayers, St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.

My Dear Readers,

Death is inevitable. Some know this better than others. Given my own strange relationship with death, I hope I understand it better than others. That is to say, I hope most people do not share in my experience. Most of us don’t want death. I’d say the vast majority of us would rather avoiding thinking about it. Throughout a great deal of my own life (for reasons I will not disclose) I pursued death. It consumed my thoughts. I was so hurt that I had become hollow. I am convinced only Divine intervention prevented an untimely end on my part. Twice I attempted to take my own life, the second actually leading me into the prayer room of a chapel, the Sunday service just beginning in the wider sanctuary.

Naturally, when I became a Christian, I wasn’t too keen on thinking about death. Death is not something that I wished to dwell on. And yet, becoming a Christian taught me something else: I wasn’t the only one with a strange relationship with death. Christians view death quite differently than anyone else.

Normal people view death as a tragedy. That is one unifying thing about death: everyone, Christian or no, likes death. In my own experience, non-Christians typically like to avoid the topic until it happens. They have often said it’s moments like that when they can almost (almost!) see why some would turn to religion. It’s not something anyone wants to dwell on. It brings pain and grief. Even to the suicidal person, death is an escape, not really a “good thing.” For those of us who actually end up committing suicide, life has taken it’s toll.

Christianity, on the other hand, looks at death eschatologically, i.e., with the End in mind. Note the capitalization. “End” typically refers to something finite: something that has a beginning point and then ceases altogether. Christians don’t view the End in this way. We view it as an eternal reality. Death in this life means a finite end to this life and a pathway to the rest of eternity. From there, eternal life with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven or eternal death in Hell, a place “intended for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

“Remember you will die,” the Christian saying goes. “…grant me remembrance of death…” the prayers say. Why would we want to? Certainly, as a new Christian, the concept was foreign to me. But in truth, it is because we were not made for this world, but for the heavenly kingdom of Christ:

“But there are many who live as enemies of the cross of Christ, as I remind you often, as I do even now in tears. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame as they think about earthly things. As for us, our citizenship is in heaven, from which we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the energy by which he is able to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:18-21, EOB).

These verses expose us to two realities: the shame of the enemies of the Cross, and the citizenship of those who have faith in Christ. The glory or shame of those who don’t know Christ is that their focus is only in the moment, seeing only what is before their faces as reality. Christians see life and death on this earth as a little more than that. We are not citizens here. We are foreigners. We seek Christ and hope to attain life in his Kingdom upon our deaths.

What then, is our life here for? One of the Russian monastics, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, writes that remembrance of death keeps us from sin so that we may also be transformed through unceasing prayer.

For the man or woman who remembers death, St. Ignatius writes, “No earthly beauty, no earthly pleasure draws his attention or his love. He condemns no one, for he remembers that at the judgment of God such judgment will be passed on as he passed here on his neighbours. He forgives everyone everything, that he may himself obtain forgiveness and inherit salvation.” In knowledge of our finality is a gift: that we may beware of bringing harm to others and so bringing condemnation on ourselves. That is nowhere near a complete picture, but see what a right response to death is: that we must look after our own neighbors, we must be selfless and life-giving. We must in order to obtain salvation for ourselves. There is no other way.

Christ Himself attests to it, when he says of the Last Judgment that those who join Him in eternal joy will be those who sought the good of their neighbors. “For I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison, and you took me in.” (Matthew 25:35-36, EOB).

It is those who forget their neighbors to whom Christ says, “…’Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not receive me; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.'” (Matthew 25:41-43, EOB, emphasis added). Hell was made “for the devil and his angels.” I think it’s a sobering thought that a prison made specifically for the fallen angels, far surpassing humans in evil and power, is shared by those human beings who failed to be “their brother’s keeper.”

One might say that becoming a Christian baptized my own longing for death. That is a rather strange thing to say, but think! Where before, I sought out death as a means to end pain, now I look at is as a gateway to true Life. I used only to worry about how horrid my own life was, without recognizing a simple truth: that I was not alone in this world. That there are others in great (and greater) pain than I, those who, by God’s grace, I may be able to may be able to sit with, cry with, talk to, listen. Listen. I think we would all do better to listen to others. If we all listened to each other more, what a happier world this would be.

Now I look at death. Most people see it as the death as an enemy. I, an escape. Now, I learn, paradox of all paradoxes, it is a gift. When a man knows he will die he “gets his affairs in order,” as the saying goes, writing a will, organizing things into the next line of succession, whatever they may be. He prepares for death by giving what he has to others. Now that is typically at the end of one’s life. Imagine a world where we were all doing that from the beginning. All these talks of suffering, pain, hurt, loss, wars, murders, where would they be? We wouldn’t know them. And here I feel I must turn to C.S. Lewis. I’ve found his opinions very wise on such things.

“It may be possible,” he writes, for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

Lewis pointedly reminds us of our immortal nature. We are not mere mortals, he explains, but potential gods and goddesses, or else potential fiends of Hell. When we interact with our brothers and sisters, he says, “…we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

And again, “It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities…that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all play, all politics…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

It is the remembrance of death which I know will cause me to turn to my neighbors: my friends, my family, coworkers, bosses, strangers, the homeless, great or small, and seek after their own well-being. It is death which will spur me to love and good works, as Our Lord has commanded us to do. May God be with me in every moment as I seek their glory, as I seek Him in eternity. With this in mind, I think I am quite ready to prepare for death again. That’s all for now.

Until next time, my friends.

The Quill

C.S. Lewis, “The Weight Of Glory,” HarperOne.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, “On the Remembrance of Death.” Orthodox Information Center, URL: http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/stignaty_death.aspx

Disclaimer: Scripture taken from the Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible. Copyright © 2013 by Laurent Cleenewerck, Editor. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Remember You Will Die: How Christ Reshapes Death

Add yours

  1. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this topic. The Christian perspective on death is very different from that of the world. It is the beginning of our heavenly and eternal life. I used to think that there was nothing beyond this earthly life.
    The remembrance of death is a good thing, although I think that it is possible for some people to go overboard with it and then fall into despair.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your thoughts. You are quite right, we often fall into despair. I am no stranger to this. I pray no one experiences what that level of despair, though I know many have and do. For them, really for us I should say, we should always be ready to pray and listen.
      As long as we remember Christ first, we know death is only a doorway to one of two eternal realities. To quote Lewis, as I often do, “Following Him is the essential point.” We keep this in mind, we shouldn’t stray too far. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

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