Monday, 2 October 2023 “Remember You Must Die” Is Good and Kind Advice
Genesis 3: 17 – 19
To Adam [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Grave Stone in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Photo Credit Nic Barfield / Flicker
This is far more than a loving damage-limitation exercise. Warnings are Good News – Gospel even – rather than punishment. Now, in the mid twenty-first century, it can be said as a matter of fact beyond poetry and speculation, as ‘truth to the power’ that “cursed is the ground because of you’.
Friends in the Pacific, drawing on their indigenous spirituality are not blinkered as to the deeper implications this. One reminded me: “we sometimes forget we are a part of not apart from Creation…we are the biodiversity we destroy…we are the biodiversity we protect.”
Scottish gravestones have been boring for a century or so, but there are plenty still above ground festooned with lovely grinning skulls, dancing skeletons, hourglasses, coffins, and even the odd gravedigger’s shovel for good measure. These stones humbly carry a message for the benefit of passers-by, rather than pandering to the cult of the ego of the deceased: ‘Memento mori’ – ‘Remember, you must die!’
In Creation as a whole death is not a failure, but part of life. Indeed, taking creatures as a whole, life requires the acceptance of death. Decay is the miraculous relationship of recycling (fermenting) and repurposing of the stuff of life, which we celebrate both in Bread and in Wine
For centuries, Christians looked to a ‘good death’: free from pain, at peace with God, and surrounded by the love and prayers of friends on Earth and beyond. The return to the Earth of what we have been carries blessing and wholeness. To live a good life, be mindful of a good death.
The spirit of Consumer Culture succeeds in turning even death into an opportunity for plastic and profit; ‘no fuss-funerals’ presents the ending of life as an embarrassing inconvenience which can seemingly be ignored. People who know they will die lead different lives from those who pretend they won’t. Both die anyway. At the death of St Francis, larks flew into his room to sing both their laments and praises. What’s the difference between a ‘Happy Ending’ and a ‘Good Death’?
Sustaining God, honouring today what has been, that what is past in every form of life may fertilise and feed the life made new.
Heal that broken kinship of Earth and their children Make of what seems cursed a family, blessed by knowledge both of limits and possibilities.
Show us an ‘eternity’ of your holy cycles water, air, carbon… life:
-a unified Creation, of Earth and Heaven-Sky which births and at our end gives welcome. Amen
The Rev’d David Coleman is a URC Minister and Chaplain to EcoCongregation Scotland.