The following is an (extended) adaption of my service leading notes from last night. For those who attend church with me, you can ask me offline why I did not deliver it as intended.
(Photo credit: Cobbitty Narellan Crows Facebook)
In preparing for leading tonight, my dad suggested I brought a cricket bat and put up here in memory of Phillip Hughes. I said, “no way!” Although he knows I have absolutely no interest in cricket, he thought I was being completely unreasonable and ignorant of the state of our nation. I told him tragic death happens every day and we don’t do a full song and dance about that. We had a few more jousts back and forwards before we agreed to disagree. He left with a cricket bat under his arm to take to his church.
After he left I began to think: why has Australia been so impacted by the tragic death of Phillip Hughes?
In our own church community this week, we have seen terrible accidents that have lead to hospitalisation, and ongoing illness flare. Tragic death, accidents and sickness happen everyday.
Why has the death of a cricket player lead to such an outpouring of support: an international social media campaign to silent minutes before amateur and professional cricket matches alike. In my social media feed I’ve seen images of nine year olds wearing black armbands over their cricket whites and my cousin’s Under 17s stand heads bowed across from their opponents. My manager at work teared up talking about it.
Death isn’t something that we face all the time. We are a culture who hides from death, a nation who looks the other way. One only needs to look at the SMH home page at lunch time or after work. We like happy stories. We don’t like death.
The reality about death is that we all must face it. For those who know the saving grace of Jesus, death should not be feared. But for those we know who don’t know grace, we should fear death for them.
A friend on social media flipped the questions this week to ask: why aren’t we so affected by all the deaths that occur everyday?
It is true that people die everyday. And that death is always tragic. But this week’s death was unexpected.
It was in our face. It was a freak accident from, I’m told, a regulation delivery in our national game. Phillip Hughes’ death has reminded Australians of the fragility of life and how close death really is. The public outpouring of support, the social media memorials are a catharsis for Australians.
Today is the first day of Advent – a season of coming, specifically, the coming of Christ. I know I’m particularly excited and starting to get into the festive spirit and like to think of this time of year as joyful and thankful for Christ’s arrival on the first Christmas. But the pain and grief is not out of place in the church’s understanding of Advent. The celebration of Advent is not just celebratory.
For Christians, Advent is marked with angst as well as relief.
This season of Advent can be a cathartic process for us all.
Since from almost the beginning of time, we have been waiting for relief. Relief from pain, from separation, from death. This world is broken. Unexpected deaths happen. War is rife. Loved ones are ill. We are waiting for relief to come.
The Advent angst is expressed through brokenhearted waiting, hoping and leaning forward in the midst of darkness. We do not just celebrate that Jesus has come. We lunge with the last shreds of strength toward a distant light in the hope that the glorious Christ is coming again, coming to make things right, coming with a new age in which accidents and tragic death don’t occur.
But times weren’t different two thousand years ago. Mary was likely outcast from the reality of being an unwedded pregnant woman. In the days following Jesus’ birth in the faeces-filled stable because a community had no room for him, unreasonable death was thrust upon families in the joy of childbirth. Mothers, fathers and families in Bethlehem lost sons to armed men because of Herod’s horrific orders. Tragic is ordering to kill every boy under age of two because he feared being overthrown by another more powerful man.
Through the sorrow of Phillip’s death and the tragic death that happens everyday, we can rejoice even when the tears sting like hell. Jesus came once to bring relief and it is promised he will come again to offer eternal reconfiguration and relief.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In this advent period, even in the wake of tragegy, we should respond to the call: ‘O come let us adore him.”
We should share the call to those who are afraid of death, those who are uncertain about what comes after death. Life is fragile and death is permanent. Let us adore the one who brings an offer of life.
Come, let us adore him – now and when he comes again.
Come again soon, Jesus.