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Archdeacon’s Article – April/May 2018

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The Difference Jesus makes to death.

It is only since 1496 that the tip of South Africa has been known as the Cape of Good Hope. Before that it was known as the Cape of Wrath. It was a place dreaded by even the most experienced sailors. Ship after ship had perished in the treacherous waters beyond it as they attempted to find a new route to the east. But then in 1496 Vasco da Gama navigated his ship safely round the Cape and went on to reach the east, fill his ship’s hold with spices and other rare treasures, and return by the same path. Immediately he was able to provide a safe way of negotiating the waters beyond the Cape and there was no shortage of seafarers eager to take up his offer and seize the rich rewards of reaching the east. Very soon the Cape of Wrath became the Cape of Good Hope.

This little snippet of history is a helpful illustration of the difference that the resurrection of Jesus makes to death. Before Jesus Christ rose from the dead the whole prospect of death was one that filled people with dread. In Life’s journey it marked the Cape of Wrath. But when Jesus went through death and then returned safely with the assurance that beyond it we could find the spices of eternal life our whole outlook has changed. We could actually begin to speak of death in terms of Good Hope. Just as Vasco da Gama proved a trustworthy pioneer in negotiating the Cape, so Jesus has proved to be a trustworthy pioneer in negotiating death.

After all death is something that we all must face. And it marks our final exit from this world and all that we have grown to know and love within it. Not only that but it the means and entry into the unknown; we haven’t been that way before. So it is hardly surprising that we are apprehensive about the whole prospect.

But we should not be swallowed up and consumed by this apprehension and fear. For death is not an unchartered sphere on the map of human life. Jesus has travelled it before us and supplied us with confidence and courage to negotiate it. In face He spoke of death as a journey in John 14. Let me quote the relevant words. “In my Father’s house there are many resting places; if it were not so, would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also”.

In his justly famous “Readings in St John’s Gospel”, William Temple points out that the resting places are wayside shelters set up along the road where travellers on a long journey can stop for refreshment. He goes on to explain that in the East it was, and still is, the custom for nomadic travellers to send an interpreter ahead to make preparations for them in the next of the resting-places along the road, so that when the main body of travellers arrive, they will find comfort as well as shelter. So the picture that Jesus is drawing is very clear. He is speaking of death as a resting-place. He is the interpreter who has gone ahead of us to it and who makes it ready for our arrival. When we reach it He will be there to greet us and settle us. That being so, death no longer has the complete sense of dread and danger that it would possess without Christ. To quote St Paul; “Death has lost its sting”.

However, this new way of looking at death is only possible if we trust Jesus. It is easy to imagine that in 1496 many people refused to believe that Vasco da Gama had negotiated a safe route around the Cape and back. Only those who trusted da Gama and were prepared to follow his directions discovered that it could be the Cape of Good Hope. Similarly there are many people today who refuse to believe that Jesus has navigated a safe route through death and back. They still view death as a threat. But there are others who trust Jesus and are prepared to follow His instructions and for them death has begun to appear as a source of good hope. That is after all what Jesus told us to do in John 14; “Believe in God and believe in Me also”.

One person who had put his trust firmly in Jesus was F.B.Meyer. When he was on his death-bed, he called for a pen and paper in order to scribble a short note to his life-long friend Lindsey Greggs, also by this time an old man. This was how the note was worded.

“Dear Lindsey. I’m just off. I’ve raced you to heaven. I’ll see you when you arrive. Yours F.B.”

I wonder if you have that kind of good hope regarding death? If not, you will find it only in Jesus and His Resurrection.

Paul W. Thomas

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