Very few of us know when we will die; the date and time of our deaths. Maybe those on death row have a clear date in mind, but even so there are appeals. Maybe suicide bombers have the opportunity to prepare themselves. Maybe someone living with a terminal illness has a date in mind, but even doctors cannot predict. In any case we all have a terminal illness; it is called “life”. Yet death will come as a shock to most of us; an irreversible change which we are powerless to influence; maybe we shall get a brief warning, when it is too late to say and to do all those things that we then consider to be really important.
We don’t know for certain what Jesus knew about the precise time of his death, but we suspect that he engineered it himself, appearing to be the victim whilst remaining in control of his suffering. Maybe he was prepared for it all along. John Wesley was once asked how he would change his plans for the day if he knew he was to die this night. His reply was to take out his diary and read the engagements; he explained that, as he was about his Father’s business, there was no need to change his plans.
So, there are some questions that we should ask ourselves…
Have we put enough thought and prayer into thinking about the end of our lives and to how we should prepare for this monumental event that we know will happen? Or are we shallow soil in which panic and despair will take root when death approaches? We have the example of Jesus, who was constantly withdrawing in prayer and reflection to make sure, as John Wesley did, that he was about his Father’s business.
Are we prepared to change our minds, our beliefs, if we find them wanting, if we find that the fruits of our spiritual journey are not those of which we could be proud on the last day? Jesus certainly showed a change of heart mid-way through his ministry. He set off with a mission to the Jews until he met the Syro-Phoenician woman whose faith persuaded him to change direction.
We have no idea, generally, about the beliefs of the person sitting next to us, because we are wary of discussing our beliefs with others, particularly with those whose company we expect to keep for a while. Is this because we don’t think that we can disagree and still maintain loving friendship? We all approach death with different beliefs but holding hands. We let go only to our detriment.
Finally, are we prepared to embrace this death as a joyful, if possibly painful, end to life? Are we prepared to relax our grip on possessions, on jobs that we think no one else can do, on any remaining reins of power, on our homes in which strangers will henceforth live?
It seems strange that, of all the events that might happen to us, the one that is unwaveringly certain can steal up on us with the least preparation.