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Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Sudden and Evil Death

The other day in chapel, we prayed the litany. One of the lines in this wonderful prayer is our petition asking God to save us from a sudden and evil death.

Have you ever thought about that? Don't most people actually want to die suddenly? What's the alternative? A slow and lingering death?

I have a hunch that this is a petition many pray, but simply don't mean (but never think about it either).

What exactly is the problem with a sudden death? We might be able to understand what an evil death would be, but why do we wish to be spared a sudden death?

You know Shakespeare's Hamlet. One of the prince's greatest sorrows at his father's death is that he was murdered while he slept. They poured poison in the poor king's ear. Prince Hamlet explains that the murderers killed his father twice because not only did they slay his body but by killing him unexpectedly, he had no occasion to shrive himself (g0 to receive private absolution).

Are you prepared to die? How does one become prepared? A sudden death suggests that one has not had opportunity to ready oneself to meet the Maker. I suppose this would be a more pressing concern if I feared thousands of years in purgatory.

A Christian finds great comfort indeed from making personal confession and receiving God's gracious absolution from the pastor. And it is a joy and consolation w/o comparison to partake of the Holy Eucharist. As a congregational pastor, I had the opportunity to stand at the deathbeds of many people and offer them God's grace and mercy. Not only was this a comfort for the dying person, but certainly also for the family.

Should this mean, however, that a Christian who is baptized into Christ and faithfully makes use of the means of grace throughout his life, relying on God's mercy, should be overly distressed at the prospect of a sudden death, as if the eternal outcome were are at urgent risk?

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1 comment:

katie said...

We pray the Litany during Lent.
I always put the two terms together--sudden and evil--as one qualifier.
What if death itself came suddenly, but after an evil sort of suffering: torture, for instance, or captivity, or some other torment?
That's what always came to my mind; not a 'sudden' or 'evil' death, but 'sudden and evil death.' Not getting suddenly snuffed out in a wreck on the highway, but seeing little or no hope for outliving a horrifying situation.
I think of hostages who've longed for freedom and for reunion with their families or their former lives, but who know death is as likely an outcome as freedom.
Pray God spares any of us that, death itself, of course, being the end of any and all such suffering.

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