Death has been a part of the human experience since the first sin, back in the Garden of Eden. It is such a part of our experience that sometimes we don’t notice it. We just accept it happens, and it someday will happen to us.
But we do rebel at times against the notion of death. A global pandemic causes us to rebel. We protect ourselves from the invisible agents of death by wearing masks and keeping our distance. As much as we know death is a reality, we don’t like it. And we don’t want it to come to us too soon.
We don’t realize, of course, that as we don our masks walking into the grocery store, we are carrying out a ritual. We demonstrate we recognize the reality of death, and we express our opposition to it.
The reverse also could be said to be true. Those who willfully refuse to don their masks also may be carrying out a ritual. Theirs is different in that they may be announcing, both to themselves and the world, that death is not something to fear. It has been conquered.
The fact of the matter is death is something that must be reckoned with, one way or another. We must approach it at times, and how we approach it reflects what we believe about it.
The ancient Israelites viewed death as a disruptive force in their culture and camp. “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days.” Touching a dead body made a person unclean. Death was closely linked with sin, which God himself tied together in the Garden (Genesis 2:17).
To come close to death, such as in the form of touching a corpse, was to approach the end result of sin. And this made a person unclean. A person in God’s kingdom had nothing to do with death. God’s kingdom was to be a kingdom of life. And the people never were to forget that.
And so they lived outside the camp for seven days after touching a dead body. The priests sprinkled them with the “water for impurity” on the third and seventh days. This water contained the blood of the sin offering. Again, sin and death are linked. And almost everything was purified with blood (Hebrews 9:22).
The Christian has nothing more to do with this ritual. We reject death more than any people on earth. Our God died for us. His death makes us clean. This ritual was fulfilled on the cross of Christ.
“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
The sprinkling of the ashes (and blood) from the red heifer allowed people to re-enter the camp, to resume life in a normal sense. The blood of Christ does more than that. His blood sprinkled frees us from the grip of death once and for all.
This is not only for us but for the purpose of our serving the living God, to carry the good news forward into a death-darkened world.
When we speak about death in this world that has been re-awakened to death’s presence, we speak as people who are full of hope and courage and compassion. It is one thing to protect our neighbor from death by a coronavirus, and it is altogether another thing to tell our neighbor about the freedom from death provided by the blood of Christ. Many call it very “Christian” to attempt the former without ever doing the latter.
It is better to do the latter.