The year of 2016 has been a very strange one indeed. At the end of the year it is only natural to look back on what has occurred over the last twelve months and try to make sense of it all. If the year has been favourable to us we will look back and give thanks for all that was good. If the year has not been so favourable we may find ourselves looking back and wondering; where did it all go wrong? This year has been one in which many would argue has been particularly difficult. Why so? Because at every twist and turn we seem to have been greeted with news of the death of another figure of note. Call them them what you want: icons, celebrities, legends etc. Whoever they were and whatever they did at the end of the day they were nothing more or less than you or I; they were people.
The hard truth of the matter is that – simply put – death is a part of life. Unfortunately there is just no avoiding it. There will come a day when each of us – at one stage or another – will die. The interesting thing about those who have died this year have been celebrated in one way or another through mass social media. After their passing internet blogs, the Twittersphere, Facebookland, Instagram etc, every one of these has been ablaze with prayers in memory of those who have died, messages of condolence for those who have died and many memories or thoughts on how the deceased has impacted the life of the person. I’ll not lie, in my mind it has been utterly beautiful to watch.
The most recent of these has been the death of Carrie Fisher. This remarkable woman gained notoriety for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars trilogy of the 1970’s and 1980’s. She would reprise her role in the last years addition; The Force Awakens. More than this though Ms Fisher became a beacon for so many over the years through her tireless work in raising awareness of mental health issues. So often when we think of those who have earned the title “celebrity” we think of those who star in reality tv shows and have become well known for their headline grabbing behaviour as opposed to how they have been a positive force for the world around us.
What does it say about our society when such Icons pass away and we mourn the loss of people who we may not have even known personally? Don’t get me wrong; I was deeply upset on hearing of the death of Sir Christopher Lee some years ago – Knight, Sith Lord, Wizard, mythological vampire, metal musician and more! Upon seeing such posts online there will be much discussion as to why are you mourning the death of someone you have never known, why do you celebrate celebrity culture and all the rest. Yet it would be my view that upon the loss of such a figure we are perfectly entitled to feel a sense of loss and sorrow upon the death of such a person.
Take me for example; I have already spoke of what Carrie Fisher meant to me. I was also impacted upon hearing of the deaths of such people such as comedienne Victoria Wood. As we have grown up these people have taught us many lessons in life and indeed love. In a world so marred with struggle and sorrow those who can provide laughs are indeed people to be treasured. When they die it does feel like a vey beautiful light has gone out. What do we do with this grief though?
We can sit down on the sofa and watch rerun after rerun of their work and lament what a brutal year this was. We can stand round on New Year’s Eve and cry both our eyes and hearts out that this year, ‘things will be better’. The irony is of course that we have no control over what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow may indeed be the day in which posts begin to circulate online as to my own passing. I certainly hope it won’t…but it is still a possibility. So what is the answer? What are we to do? My response to this is to be found in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter fifteen of this letter Saint Paul discusses rather explicitly the matter of death and what comes after. There is some real beauty in this particular passage and material which should give us hope for the new year.
In this chapter Saint Paul speaks of death and his own imperfections and sinfulness (something I myself can identify substantially with!) and while I would recommend to those reading this that you read all of what Saint Paul writes in this particular chapter of his letter, I should like to draw attention to a particular passage, in which this remarkable saint writes:
“And as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly one. What I am saying, brothers, is that mere human nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God: what is perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable. Now I am going to tell you a mystery: we are not all going to fall asleep but we are all going to be changed, instantly, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet sounds. The trumpet is going to sound, and then the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed, because this perishable nature of ours must put on imperishability, this mortal nature must put on immortality.
And after this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then will the words of scripture come true: Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin comes from the Law. Thank God, then, for giving us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, my dear brothers, keep firm and immovable, always abounding in energy for the Lord’s work, being sure that in the Lord none of your labours is wasted.” (1 Cor 15: 49 – 58)
Aren’t these words beautiful? They give me great hope for the new year because they remind me that those who have died will – please God – be raised up again one day and we shall see each other as we truly are. We will be reunited with the ones we have loved and lost (temporarily). Many icons of the past have passed away this year, but that doesn’t mean the lessons we have learnt from them have to die with them. We can celebrate them in our daily life and can try to live out the messages of love and hope we have learnt from them.
So let this be my new year’s resolution: let that which is past be past. Whatever is to come will be but let my faith be in Jesus Christ. In Him alone is where I find my hope and strength. Perhaps tomorrow will be the day in which God will call me home. If indeed it is then know that I have done my utmost to live a life of love. But do not mourn and do not grieve for too long. My hope is in Jesus and I pray that he will welcome me home as a loving son. Please God though this day will not happen for many years to come.
I know the future look uncertain at this stage – I myself am concerned for what will be. But I hold on to hope. I look at those around me and I smile knowing that I am surrounded by the love of my family and friends, not to mention the love of my family in Heaven. What gives me the greatest hope for the new year is quite simply this:
“Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16: 31 – 33)
Let every day of what remains of 2016, what will be in 2017 and all the days of your life be nothing less than a blessing. Let every one be a miracle. Your life is a miracle…cherish it!