There is an astonishing clarity, an epiphany even, that suffering and trials can bring to our lives. One writer likened it to smelling salts that can awaken us out our false beliefs. This means we are living in a time of tremendous opportunity, not because we are in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic, but because this pandemic has the potential to awaken not just ourselves but the whole world to a reality we try desperately to not see—we are mortal.
In Psalm 90:12 Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Here we find Moses devoting, not just one verse, but an entire Psalm to a meditation and pray to have a deeper realisation of a topic we don’t even like to consider for one second. Maybe we’ve got it wrong and Moses has it right. Maybe we are avoiding and denying something we should be facing and embracing? In Timothy Keller’s book succinctly titled, On Death, he writes: “Medicine and science have relieved us of many causes of early death, and today the vast majority of people decline and die in hospitals and hospices, away from the eyes of others. It is normal now to live to adulthood and not watch anyone die, or even see a corpse except in the brief glance of an open coffin at funeral.” Maybe with all our modern advances we’ve removed from our lives any reminder of a part of life we desperately need to be reminded of; life ends, our lives will end, because we are mortal.
In our denial of death there is a paradox. We fear death because it can make life seem futile, but if we face our mortality we can live in a way that isn’t futile. Moses tells us recognising our mortality helps us “gain a heart of wisdom”. We discover in times like these that what we pursue to give life meaning is all to often completely insignificant when viewed from the limited days we live. Furthermore, the things we look to for security and reassurance are shown to be impotent when the reality of our mortality rises before our eyes. As Addison Leitch once said, “We’re all on a little ball of rock called Earth, and we’re spinning through space at millions of miles an hour. Someday a trapdoor is going to open up under every single one of us, and we will fall through it. And either there will be millions and millions of miles of nothing—or else there will be the everlasting arms of God.” At that moment our bank balances, community cred, and priceless possessions will count for nothing but in view of that moment considered now we are free then to live different lives until that moment comes. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
The other fear, and perhaps the bigger one, that prevents us from being comfortable numbering our days is simply the fear of death itself. It is the ultimate unknown which we all face. Thankfully, the Gospel frees us from this fear so that we can pray Moses’ prayer and gain the wisdom we so desperately need in order to live lives free from regret. In Hebrews 2:10, 14-15 we read, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered…Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” William Lane says the word translated “pioneer” really should be translated “champion”. So Jesus is our champion. He faced our greatest foe and conquered it. We no longer need to be enslaved to fear or any of his friends: panic, alarm, distress, anxiety, or worry. As free men and women we can accept and crazy enough, actually long for the reality of our mortality-death (Philippians 1:21-23).
As we take the bread and the wine let them be a reminder of our Champion Jesus. He has conquered death and freed us from Fear. And as people set free from fear let’s number our days and gain the wisdom that comes from that practice. Making choices each day to live a life that truly matters. Investing not in things of this life or the here and now but rather in the age to come. Living here and now not for ourselves but for others—just like our Champion.