REFLECTION: "Grant Us Peace in Our Day, and Keep Us Free From All Anxieties."
Today, in our first reading - drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews - we hear a very powerful phrase concerning Christ's mission. The human race is described as people who have "lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying."
We couch death in darkness. Black is the 'color of mourning'. We gather in dimly lit funeral homes that, frankly, always come across - at least to me - as being artificially maudlin. We seal tombs. We speak of 'The Grim Reaper'. Very little about the way we couch death is 'comforting' to those who look ahead with trepidation about their final days, no matter if they are 25 and in perfect health, or 85 and facing an uncertain diagnosis and health future.
Now, don't get me wrong... life is worth living to its fullest. If we can find ways to extend our life that are morally and ethically appropriate, then there is no reason not to do so. Same goes for quality of life. We can, we should, and we must continue to seek ever more effective treatments and, whenever possible, cures for diseases like cancer, AIDS, Ebola, and the like. Diseases, especially degenerative ones like Parkinson's, ALS, Alzheimer's, and the many forms of Dementia which rob human beings of physical and mental functionality deserve to be attacked with gusto by medical science. Emotional health too deserves a strong research into continually improving the lives of those suffering from Bi-polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Depression, and other impairments.
But these diseases, and even the cessation of our biological functionality (and yes, that's a nice way to say death) must be viewed, by us, as Christians, through the lens of Jesus' atoning death, powerful resurrection, and majestic ascension into heaven.
In our Gospel today, Jesus is seen healing various individuals... chief among them the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. But I can promise you this. His mother-in-law eventually died. That group of sick and demon possessed people... the ones who darkened the doors where Jesus was staying around sunset... yea, they got their healing; but they died too.
You see, while we may be healed of physical ailments via medical or miraculous means, while we may be delivered from self-inflicted demons, or from those who oppress and possess at the command of the Enemy, we are still subject to the rift, the separation that Adam created through his actions in the Garden. Though redeemed from sin, we still partake of its effects. We are still going to die.
It may happen through disease. It may happen in a car crash, or a terrorist attack, or in a multitude of other ways, but you and I are going to die, unless Jesus comes first. (Can I get a Maranatha from anyone?) But, as we are reminded in our selection today from the Psalms, God is faithful to the covenants he makes.
In a few minutes, we will share the covenant meal that God has left us. To paraphrase the words of one of the Eucharistic Prayers from the Sacramentary, this sacred meal is "imbued with the virtue of his passion". What is the virtue of his Passion, well, our first reading stated it pretty succinctly:
"the Son... became flesh and blood.
For only as a human being could he die,
and only by dying could he break the power of the devil,
who had the power of death.
Only in this way
could he set free all who have lived their lives
as slaves to the fear of dying."
Jesus, in his dying, offers a sacrifice that takes away the sins of the people. When our committed sins are wiped away, when God's abundant mercy is poured out over us day by day, when the perpetual covenant is celebrated in our sight, our hearts become formed in new ways, and the fear and anxieties that surround a poor diagnosis, the loss of function, or even the barrel of a gun begin to diminish.
This isn't to say that, from time to time, we won't have moments of renewed anxiousness concerning the realities of life and death. Anxiety comes with the territory of our human nature. But, as we pray in the short prayer which follows the Lord's Prayer, known as the embolism, "Grant us peace in our day... and keep us free from all anxieties". When anxiousness begins to surface, and peace seems fleeting, we can look to the Cross, we can come to the Table, we can open the Scriptures. There, we will find sure signs of the Covenant, a covenant that we, as Covenant People, can trust to deliver us safely through the trials, the pains, and the troubles of life... and lead us safely to our Kingdom home.