A dear friend passed away recently. She faced her cancer with courage, grateful for the good in her life and trusting God even in the face of a fearful disease. She packed as much living as possible into her remaining time, and even though she knew she had mere weeks to live, she acted like someone who expected to live forever.

Palliative wards are solemn places, but there’s also a sort of emotional cleanness to them. All the facades are stripped away, and life in its most elemental form is laid bare; no niceties or airs, but pure, raw existence. It’s one of the most honest places I can think of: the big questions can’t be put off any more. It’s okay to cry.

And… those facing death can view the gospel with unusual clarity. They know, better than any, death as the ultimate humiliation, the running down and undoing of all we are. It declares the cessation of dreams and all we cherish; it is the end of meaning and music, song and beauty. The dying and bereaved can’t put off death’s brutal reality with amusements and distractions; it’s right there in their faces.

And yet, so much hope.

Hope – all hope, if your really think about it – is ultimately connected to freedom from the fear of death. This is why the Resurrection matters. It’s not just a nice story; it is a historical fact declaring that by Christ’s death sin is beaten, and death broken. That our end is not one of futility, but of the triumph of life and all that goes with it: existence has meaning, beauty is real, and we have a reason to live.

And we WILL live. The anticipation of an eternal, physical existence with Christ lies at the very centre of Christian hope. He rose; and because He did, so shall we.

As far as this present life goes, we’re all terminal anyways; it’s just a question of when. They say there’s no atheists in foxholes, but I don’t think the dying are grasping at straws. There’s too much historical evidence for the gospel, too much commonality of experience to dismiss it out of hand. This hope is a very real issue to the dying, and its reality often shines through their last days: perhaps as beacons to those of us who will tarry a few more years.

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