I remember lying in bed as a teenager in complete silence and darkness not being able to fall asleep. My thoughts quickly changed from friends, to school, to sports and all the everyday events of a typical teenager’s life. I can still remember the feeling like it was only yesterday. The first time I realized that someday, I would die. Lying there in the darkness a feeling of terror came over me. The terror was followed by panic and tears running down my face. I remember having these episodes a number of times. They usually passed as I calmed down and feel asleep. During these moments, I don’t remember once ever thinking about God. I was thinking only of myself and how scared I was. My thoughts were focused on the great and wonderful things of this world, which I would be without. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my life and the things I loved. I would have nothing, I’d be dead.
These “terror over dying” experiences started shortly after my confirmation. You would think years of attending church and going through confirmation classes would have put my mind at ease. The problem was I had not been properly catechized in the faith. I was not shown the sin that resides within me and not pointed to the true man and true God in Jesus Christ who took my sin and my death to the cross. The reasons couldn’t be placed solely on any one factor. I skated through confirmation classes at my ELCA church like I did my high school classes. I did just enough to get by and pass. I didn’t really learn anything. Sadly, I do not remember ever being truly tested by my pastor on the things I was supposed to be learning. Somehow I was confirmed and afterwards my church attendance consisted of Christmas and Easter services. I left the church and Jesus Christ behind to follow my own heart and desires.
Fast forward about 10-15 years. Only through the grace of God and the work of his word and sacraments I found my way back into the church. I’ve been properly taught the faith and attend church every Sunday I can. I hear the Word of God, confess my sins and receive the absolution. I eat and drink the true body and blood of Christ to strengthen my faith and receive forgiveness of sins. That fear I had as a teenager has lessened, but to be honest I am still afraid to die. What gives? Why hasn’t this fear of dead subsided? What hasn’t changed and will never change is my sin. My faith is not in Jesus Christ, but in my own flesh and blood. My fear of death now has turned from missing the things of this world to not being there for my wife and children. Not being able to watch them grow up and not being able to protect them. I continue to try to put my life and salvation in my own hands instead of depending completely on the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I wrote in a previous article about making the mistake of putting our sin on a scale. Our sin is always a 10, and at times it even goes to an 11. Like the level of our sin, the level of our fear of death is not important. Sin is sin, and fear is fear. Being ready to die or unafraid of death has nothing to do with faith in Jesus Christ. Does God look at our strength in death as the merit of our salvation? I can’t imagine even the most faithful Christian not being scared to die. In my opinion, saying you are not scared to die is tantamount to works righteousness. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, not our own strength.
So let’s be honest here, I’m still scared to die. My fear is covered in my own sin. It is not covered in the blood of Christ, as it should be. So what is a Christian to do? All we can do in this life is to use the means in which God has given us to comfort our sinful hearts. These means of grace were given to us by God and are available in his church. Holy Baptism gives us the assurance of salvation, when our fear is great. We look to our baptism as proof of God’s love and guarantee. Our baptism connects us with Jesus’s death and resurrection. Like most people, I don’t remember my baptism. So for me, Holy Communion is the most intimate and powerful way God comes to us, to strengthen our faith and crush our fear. The forgiveness of sins and Christ’s true body and true blood are in the present, right here and right now. As Christians we can never doubt how great our God truly is because of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has taken our fear of death and turned it into strength in his life, death and resurrection. We fear nothing, not because of our strength but because of Jesus Christ’s strength. Fear and death had no hold over Jesus Christ, so it will have no hold over you. He faced it and won. So when your worry and fear sets in, confess the name of Jesus Christ. Death has lost its sting. The resurrection and life eternal are yours in Jesus Christ.