The cross and the plastic flowers along the side of the highway usually appear unexpectedly. You’re rounding a curve or cruising along and suddenly someone’s marked a spot where a life tragically ended in some terrible crash that is all but forgotten save for this roadside shrine.
I’ve been to many cemeteries but am never so aware of death as when I see these homemade memorials. I suppose it’s because of the proximity of this unfortunate person’s death as I travel over the same ground safely.
It reminds me of the nearness of death and how helpless I am to stave it off when it comes. The shrine calls out to me as I pass by reminding me that this could be me. I drive by safely, this time, but oh how easily, how quickly it could be me.
There is no refuge from the random ways people die. Hollywood movies aside, most death is banal and freakish. The amount of stress and effort to be “safe” is comical when considering the incredible number of ways and ease that death can take us away.
What is most sad is the energy and resources invested in trying to deny, delay and deter death. Millions are spent to extend a life by a month or a year, and usually accomplished at the cost of unbearable suffering and agony. The cabal of doctors and hospitals grow wealthy at the expense of frightened people who don’t want to accept the inevitable truth that their life must end sometime.
The Hebrew writer said “It is given to man to die once, and then comes the judgment” Hebrews 9:27. In this is great wisdom for those who dread death and spend much of their lives trying to avoid the one sure thing that life promises – death. The Holy Spirit comforts all those who recognize this truth with promises that provide hope in the face of a sure death.
First of all, He says that death is “given” by God. Given in the sense that God allows this to happen and so it is something within His control. This gives us courage to go to our deaths without fear because it is part of God’s plan for us. We fight to have every extra painful breath, but would be so much more at peace if we simply accepted our deaths without the violent struggle that so often accompanies them.
Secondly, He says that death is experienced only once. What a relief to know that this terrible experience will only occur one time in our existence. Once over, it will never be repeated. What encouragement for those who are suffering to know that once it’s over, it will be over forever!
Finally, the passage says that judgment follows death. I rejoice in this because it means that death is not final, there is something after death. The fact that it’s judgment helps me know how to live my life here, as one who will answer for it after I die. This is a great comfort for those who have suffered injustice here as well as those who have prepared for the judgment by living faithful Christian lives.
I don’t know what type of marker will announce my death to passers by. I do know, however, that the message I will leave will not simply note the place or time of my death. I will call out to the living to tell them that I embraced my death with hope, and assure all who remember me that, “…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom. 6:23.