Even on the first Easter morning, the women were on the way to the gravesite to do just that. They were going to the cemetery, anticipating exactly what you’d expect at a tomb – a dead body that is beginning to decay. So they were bringing spices to cover the smell of death.
If we are honest, what the women attempted on Easter morning is no different from what many of us try to do every other day of the week. We want to mask the stench of death. We want to hold our nose, cover our eyes, plug our ears – anything to keep from thinking about the looming specter of death.
How do we go about masking death? We try to cover up the reality of death in one of three ways.
1. IGNORE DEATH
I know people who never go to a funeral. They have never seen a dead body. They don’t want to put together a will or pick out a cemetery plot. The idea is too much. They say, “I just don’t want to think about it.” So they don’t.
We can do our best to ignore death, but death doesn’t leave us alone. We want to shut out the idea and think of pleasant thoughts. If we can just put it out of sight, we can put it out of mind. So we think.
We’re like the rich fool in Jesus’ story – taking into account all the space we need for big barns and harvest and money and wheat, and yet at the end, the only space we need is a box in which to be buried.
2. EXPLAIN DEATH
The second way people try to cover the stench is by overanalyzing and examining death’s processes. We obsess over death in its details, and we analyze its causes and effects. But we do it safely through our televisions.
Some shows deal with the gory details of how the body passes from life to death, the gruesome crime scene, or the analysis of dead bodies. These types of shows revel in the details and desensitize us to death. Others shows use zombies, vampires and other monsters to show “death come to life.” Death has been glamorized.
But death can’t be contained to a flat screen. Science cannot explain it away. Pop culture cannot make it hip. Not when you are personally affected by it. When you lose someone you love, no amount of scientific explanation is going to satisfy you. No television make-up can hide the pain.
3. SPIRITUALIZE DEATH
The third way to mask the stench of death is to spiritualize it, to redefine it as something good not bad. So we talk about death in peaceful terms. We say things like, ‘Death is a natural part of life.’
We soften our language and talk about “passing away.” We speak about people who’ve died as if they are angels in the heavens or stars in the sky.
But no amount of spiritualization can take away the sting of death. Deep down, we know this is true. There is nothing more unsettling and saddening than to watch someone else suffer and die.
WE DON’T NEED DEATH TO BE MASKED…
Over the past few years, my father-in-law battled cancer, and over time, he wasted away – the disease capturing the last of his strength, until the final days were spent in agony, moaning with each breath. We gathered in his room and watched him close his eyes for the last time.
I will never get out of my mind the picture of my best friend and next door neighbor growing up – seeing him in his casket. He spiraled out of control mentally at the age of 16 and took his own life. I remember standing over his casket, looking at his body and thinking, This isn’t right. Someone do something! It stung. It still stings. The stench is there.
Who hasn’t turned their head away in horror at the scenes of people jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center, the scenes of babies butchered in clinics in Philadelphia, the pictures of the wounded and dead in wars across the world, the scenes of flood waters rising and sweeping people away, or the little casket being lowered into the ground just days after a newborn entered and left this world?
You can’t tie a ribbon to death. A nice little bow won’t suffice. The women might have felt good by bringing spices to anoint the body of Jesus, but their spices could do nothing to change the horrible situation. Death is final, and dead people stay dead. We may feel better by covering the stench, but we cannot change the outcome, as much as we might try.
The good news is that we don’t have to try to cover it up.
… WE NEED DEATH TO BE DEFEATED
Death is not our friend. It is the fallen wages reaped by sinful man. It is the last enemy to be defeated, not a friend to be embraced.
But for the believer, Jesus has conquered death.
The resurrection changes everything. Death didn’t have the last word on Jesus, and for those of us who are in Him, it won’t have the last word on us either.
No, we cannot mask death in feeble attempts to disguise its ugliness. But we can trust in the accomplished work of Christ. He stood face-to-face with death, unmasked it forever, and came out victorious on our behalf.