I have a garden. I didn’t always love it. In fact, it was only a couple years ago that my wife and I truly began to try our hand at the green-thumbed task. We still have so much to learn, and have made many, many mistakes. But there is one thing I’ve grown to love, and that is the feel of cool loosened dirt between my fingertips. Why on earth would anyone love such a sensation? I imagine it has to do with our perception.
What do you see when you consider dirt? For some perhaps, you’re drawn to a near hysterical scream at the thought. I do have vivid memories of my grandmother yelling in horror as I tracked dirt in the house. (I occasionally echo her sentiments with my own children, much to my chagrin.) However, when viewed in its appropriate context, dirt is a symbol of impending life.
We often associate dirt with death. We know from our times at funerals that it is not uncommon for dirt to be scattered on a casket. In those moments we are reminded of the language from the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer as earth was cast upon the body, “we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” Dirt in these moments reminds us that as God “formed the man of dust from the ground” and “to dust [he shall] shall return.” (Gen. 2:7; 3:19 ESV) We must not forget this.
Sadly, much of our world tries to ignore this inevitability, whether it be by means of the soma of entertainment, pornography or of mere social activism and generic cheer. But reason and Scripture are clear on this matter, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…” (Heb. 9:27 AV) The question has to be asked: Why have we run from such discussions? Why do we flee from every vestige of death, as a deer flees from the presence of an inexperienced hunter? Because we presume ourselves to be immortal, and we have never learned to see Death rightly.
Death in all of its horrors is atrocious. Death has robbed my family of joy, and has done the same for you. Death comes and seemingly halts the trajectories and plans of numerous families. Today, if you are not right with God by repenting and believing in Christ, then you are powerless before Death and ought to fear it because through its icy fingers you are cast headlong into the wrath of God. But believers bear an abiding hope in Christ.
We forget that portion of literature in the church that concerns itself with the art of dying well. The writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the church in the generation following the Apostles, abounded in such wisdom. In one rich vein of pastoral wisdom, medieval doctor of the church, Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 AD) encouraged those facing Death in this way: “whilst thy soul abideth in thee, put all thy confidence in [the] death [of Christ] alone, place thy trust in no other thing; commit thyself wholly to this death, cover thyself … cast thyself … wrap thyself wholly in this death.” We don’t talk like this today do we? Nevertheless, we are in need of the same counsel. Why? We Christians need to be reminded that our deaths have already been conquered by Christ’s death. Also, non-believers need to know that if they have not been covered by the death of Christ, then they remain powerless against death and the wrath of God to come. No amount social distancing efforts can keep us from those realities, and you ought to be horror-stricken at your present estate. But you are not hopeless for Christ still bids you to come while breath is in your lungs.
We return to the Book of Common Prayer’s burial liturgy, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body…” This is what I think about every time I have cool dirt between my fingertips. Not only do I consider the reality that someday I will die, and my children will die, and should the Lord tarry, my grandchildren will inevitably die. There is no escaping that. But, I am brought to tears of joy knowing, that my Savior has conquered not only His Death, but also my death and theirs by His glorious resurrection. Our hope remains unshakeable: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” (Acts 2:38 ESV)
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