So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Ps. 90:12
Even in a normal year, Holy Week tends to be a time of increased reflection on death, for the obvious reason that the events of the week center on the crucifixion of Christ. In this pandemic year, we’re reminded of death even more. Every little thing we do—put on gloves, disinfect a doorknob, wear a mask, stand six feet apart—reminds us of death. People are dying. We might be spreading deadly disease. We can’t escape the topic. It dominates the news worldwide.
But that is a good thing! Did you know that many great devotional writers and pastors have said daily reminders of our own mortality can benefit our spiritual lives tremendously? For example, perhaps the most famous devotional writer in the history of Lutheran churches, Johann Gerhard, wrote a reflection called “The Daily Consideration of Death.” In it, he addresses his own soul and tells how beneficial it is for us to remember that we are pilgrims and temporary sojourners in this world. We make wiser decisions, we keep our priorities in better order, we get less discouraged by worldly setbacks and experience more peace and joy when we remember that every day might be our last.
“We deceive ourselves sadly if we think of death as only taking place with the last breath of life here; on the contrary, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, we are dying.” Those words by Gerhard simply state a fact. We are born with a finite number of heartbeats. Every beat reduces that number by one, like a countdown. He says there is huge spiritual value in waking up every day with the knowledge that this might be your last day, and going to bed at night as a sort of “practice death” knowing you might never wake up.
But isn’t that morbid? Not at all. It is simply true, and no threat at all to those who know Christ and the victory over sin, death, and hell. “….If I should die before I wake, I pray, Thee, Lord my soul to take.” That little “Now I lay me…” prayer is one way children learn to number their days and gain a heart of wisdom. It is when we forget that we are mortal, when we disregard the reality of death or ignore, that we make foolish decisions, put our faith in nonsense, and stop relying on our Creator and Redeemer for every good thing.
As you cannot celebrate Holy Week in the normal ways this year, I urge you today to be aware of every reminder of death you see—every death toll on the news, every rubber glove or mask, every mention of the stay-at-home order. Keep track. Let it help you examine your life, put your days and years in the context of eternity. And let the events we commemorate in Holy Week make that context a source of comfort and hope.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana