These days we pass through a temperature check point at the dentist office, we pass through a TSA check when we board a plane, and some of us try to pass by the sweets in the grocery store because they are so tempting. One thing I will not pass is away. I hear people talk about the death of a loved one as that person having “passed away” or just dropping the word “away” and saying, “Uncle Joe passed.” This seems to be getting more common. I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with such euphonism.
“To pass,” according to a quick Google search means, “to cease to exist,” such as, “the patient passed away during the night.” Passed. It is a vague word. Passed to where or what? My hunch is that the popularity of this word has something to do with our culture's fear, avoidance of death, and wanting to sanitize the whole reality of death. Passing sounds less crude, more whimsical. It sounds like someone is just riding off into the sunset. It softens the blow when hearing of the death of a loved one.
If “passing away” is the way we talk about people dying, perhaps we should change the terms for those entering life. When an infant enters the world, we say the child was born. We do not say, a child showed up today. Showing up does make it a bit more mysterious, just like passing does. They both limit and distort the event.
A brief look at history says that “passed away" was used by those who believed that the soul left the body at death and passed onto another place. So, I guess if that is what you believe, then it makes sense to say, “passed away.” But that is not the Christian way. Christianity does not believe in the separation of body and soul. We believe in a complete resurrection of body and soul. Thus, "Uncle Joe passed," we say, when in all reality he did not pass; he died. Death is what happened to Uncle Joe. Death is the result of sin, of our brokenness and imperfect world. Everything dies. As Christians we need death to happen in order to gain new life. Resurrection life.
I am thinking about death today as we are in the midst of Holy Week. I am not thinking about Jesus passing. Jesus will continue to exist after his death. If passing means ceasing to exist, then I do not want to hear of Jesus passing. We do not proclaim our faith in the words of the Apostles Creed with: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, passed, and was buried; he descended to where the passed are…. He will come to judge the living and the passsed. No!
It is only through death that we receive life. We can see that in our lives and the lives of loved ones. An addict may lose their job, their home, their family, everything, before they can find themselves and God to bring life. Death leads to life. A person with chronic pain can let their pain control their life and they can just exist, or they can find life as they learn how to control their pain. A person in a car accident is told that he will lose his leg. At first it seems like the end of the world but once coming to grips with the grief and loss, he work towards living again and taking charge. Death leads to life. Jesus brings life in these situations, and Jesus brings us to life after our final death.
The center of the Christian faith is grounded in the Cross. As Jesus goes to the cross, he loses everything; his friends, first Judas, then Peter, and the other disciples. He loses credibility with the people, who shout to crucify him. He is alone. He even feels that God is distant and not answering as he is suffering on the cross.
How we hate suffering. We try to avoid it at all costs. But there comes a time when we cannot avoid it any longer. In our suffering, we meet Jesus at the foot of the cross. He takes all of our suffering on himself. Then, after his suffering, thirsting, and breathing his last breath, Jesus dies. He is dead. He did not pass away. He will be taken down from the cross, wrapped in linens and placed in a tomb as is the procedure.
All is quiet. All of Jesus’ followers grieve. Death, the villain, seems to have won. But then comes Jesus. The resurrected Jesus, who defeats death and sin. Living among the disciples for the next fifty days until his ascension. In I Corinthians 15:12, Paul deals with the issue of Christ's death and resurrection. He says, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is not resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
We, like the early believers, proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is the first to raise from the dead. We too are offered new life, which comes through our death and Jesus’ work on the cross and defeating death and sin. Not by the passing of Jesus, but by the death of Jesus.
So, I invite you to proclaim the good news of your faith and what Jesus has done for you, through death. The culture may speak of passing, but we know Christ was crucified, and we know what the future holds on the other side of death. Jesus is about life. Jesus takes what is dead and brings life. It is not a passing thing; it is about hope of life even after death. Pass it on!