God's new life means death need not be feared
Philip Young, vicar at St Thomas' Church, Heigham says that God’s new life is for all and death is no longer to be feared.
Recently I have been fascinated by a phrase, which comes at the end of the Franciscan Prayer, ‘The Canticle of the Creatures’. The phrase is: ‘Blessed are those who are found doing your most holy will for the second death will do them no harm’
The second death, I am pretty sure, refers to the death of the body, which St. Francis called sister death.
The prayer goes: ‘Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, the death of the body, from which no one living is able to flee. Woe to those who are dying in mortal sin.’
So St. Francis was able to embrace death as a sister and saw the death of the body as something that could do us no harm.
So what is the first death? Perhaps if we can answer this question, then we can understand St. Francis’ positive attitude to death, and this may help us to approach our own death in a positive way.
I believe that Francis thinks of the first death as our Baptism.
The person being baptised is plunged under the water and this represents their death. As they come up out of the water this represents their rising with Jesus and their new life in him.
In Baptism we submit ourselves to God. We declare our faith in God and respond to his call. God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. We declare that to follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.
The first death then is our death when we fully submit to God’s Spirit working in us. We die with Christ and we are raised up with him. As St. Paul puts it: ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So is this new creation just for Christians who believe and are others condemned to rot in eternal hell?
I don’t believe so. Christians, and their new life in Christ, are the first fruits of all that is to come. I believe that the love of God and the new life that this brings, is for all people and that the whole of creation will be set free from bondage.
The wonderful good news is that Jesus has come to give us life and life in all its fullness and that this life is for all God’s creatures and for all of God’s creation.
What is so sad is that people do not find this new life and reject God. Sometimes they remain in darkness and die without knowing of his love for them. Does this mean that they are cut off forever? I cannot believe so, for if God is love, then his love is for eternity and nothing can separate us from his love.
So if we are all going to be saved from hell then I can hear people saying what does it matter what we do and how we behave? ‘Why not sin that grace may abound?’ as St. Paul puts it in Romans.
The answer to that is to say that God does not want one of his children to remain in darkness and ignorance for any amount of time, but to turn to the light and find life in all its fullness. The door is always open and it is up to us to enter into the place of light and love. But God is infinitely patient and literally has all the time in the world. God waits for us to respond to his love with our love and devotion, but he is not one to force us where we are not ready to go.
We can decide to die with Christ at anytime, as the invitation is always open to follow him. Once we have died that first death then we have nothing to fear of the second death as we are already new creatures and nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Will you turn away from darkness and dark deeds and accept his love and forgiveness? Why wait a moment longer?
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. We welcome your thoughts and comments, posted below, upon the ideas expressed here.