So when I was a junior in college, Leslie, some friends, and I got a chance to study in and travel around Europe. One of the last stops on our trip was in Rome. It’s by far my favorite city in the world, it was like stepping into a giant museum that doubled as a city. Everywhere you went there were places that were rich with Christian history. Catacombs that the earliest Christian martyrs were buried in. Great statues, that were hundreds of years old, done by incredible artists littered the street. St. Peter’s and the Vatican had the Sistene Chapel and the bones of the man who walked on water with Jesus.
But by far, the most disturbing, and memorable stop in that city was the Capuchin Crypt. It was a monastery that began in the early 17th century. And it was filled with art, but the art was made of the bones of the monks who had died there.
It was a little dark.
Actually, it made Saw IV look like Bambi. And at first we didn’t get it. It was so morbid and disorienting. Our tour guide explained that after a monk would die, they would keep his body buried for 30 years, just long enough for the body to fully decompose. And then they would exhume him and use his bones to add to the sculptures. And the question we were asking was, “Why would anyone ever do this?”
It was by far the darkest hour of our time abroad…and we had toured Aushwitz. Toward the end of the tour we came to a room filled with 3 very dead, yet fully dressed monk skeletons, and there was a placard right in the center of them. It simply read, “What you are we once were, what we are you soon will be.”
Needless to say, we chose not to buy anything from the giftshop.
So we are entering into the end of Holy Week. It’s the time when Christians all over the world are remembering what Jesus has done and is doing in the world. When we remember that Jesus laid down his life on the Cross. It’s when we remember when God died.
And the temptation, like always is to rush ahead in our minds to Easter, to try and push ahead past all the grief and suffering that we try to ignore so much. But historically the Church has refused to let us do that. Throughout the ages, the Church hasn’t just celebrated Easter, it’s also emphasized Good Friday. It’s forces us to remember that death is also a part of the story of God. It’s just not the final chapter.
There’s an old Latin saying that has been around in the Jesus movement since medieval times. It’s called, “Memento Mori” It just means remember you will die. I like that.
This is a stream all throughout Scripture. Ecclesiastes is going to remind us to not forget there is a time to live and a time to die. James, the brother of Jesus is going to remind us that life is a vapor, we are here today, and gone tomorrow. Our lives are fragile, and nothing is guaranteed.
I once heard a missionary talk about the death rate in African Nations. He said it was 100 percent. Which is worse than I thought.
But you know what he means. Death comes to everyone, it is the most inevitable thing in the world, yet we have created entire cultures and lifestyles that deny the inevitable. This is what the monks knew about us, and sought to correct. We have a bent in us to deny the one thing that undeniable. We will one day die. And so our days on this earth matter, because we don’t have an infinite amount of breathes left. We are full of life today, and in the ground tomorrow.
We live in a world of death denial. We escape through our vices and they turn into addictions. We escape through our entertainment and they turn us irrelevant. We do everything we can to pretend we won’t die. And then, despite all or pretense, we finally die anyway. But maybe the reason we are so drawn to death-avoidance is because we’ve forgotten the end of Holy Week is Easter.
Death is not the final word.
And so maybe these monks weren’t so crazy after all. It’s very morbid and dark if you think of death as the end of all things. But the classic Christian story says that just isn’t true. Death is the passage that we must all take to the age to come. It won’t do any good to pretend it’s not coming, in fact, it may help to acknowledge that it has gotten one year closer. Because when we enter into this season of death reminders, we find that Jesus meets us there too.
And he holds the keys out of death.
Because after every death there is a resurrection.