Monday, November 24, 2008

Bona Mors

This morning as I got off the 10 bus at Water & Wisconsin I saw police and emergency vehicles on Water Street between Wisconsin & Mason, and the whole block closed off. I soon heard via rumors on the street, which were verified later, that a woman fell from a building to her death. She fell twenty floors from the top of the Associated Bank building on Water Street. One recoils from just the thought of a life ending in such a way. The police kept the block closed for about three hours, for the sake of their necessary work and investigation, yet the thought occurs to me that perhaps closing the area to the public is appropriate if only because it seems somehow inappropriate to tread on such a scene so soon after a tragedy of this sort. Of course the city goes on, but along with everything else I did today at the bookshop, I thought of this woman who is most likely unknown to me.

The Christian prays for a happy death, bona mors, that is, a death for which he is spiritually prepared. How is one thus prepared? I think that one way to put this into Lutheran perspective is to approach the question of how to meet our Maker upon death the same way we approach the question of how to meet Him in the Holy Supper. In the Catechism, Luther teaches that "Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, Given and shed for you for the remission of sins." Likewise, in preparation for the eternal feast of the Lamb of God in heaven, fasting and bodily preparation in our brief stay in this world are very helpful and praiseworthy. Such things ought to be encouraged. Yet to what precisely do we credit our being prepared for the day of judgment and the life to come? Faith. Faith in general? No. Faith and trust in what the Gospel teaches us of Christ, the God-man, namely, that in His Passion and sacred death, His bona mors, He shed His precious blood for you, pro vobis, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Christ's death is the sacrifice for the sin of the world. At the same time, I would urge the reader to consider, it is the supreme example for us. He walked to His death knowingly, prepared, and unflinching, like a lamb to the slaughter. His is the good, noble, and happy death, in the best sense.

I said that the Christian prays for a happy death, but is this really in our normal thinking today? One way to make it a more explicit part of our life of prayer would be to pray the classic Litany often. In the Litany we pray, "A subitanea et improvisa morte: Libera nos Domine." Okay, more often it looks more like this, "From sudden and unexpected death: Deliver us, O Lord."

When we hear of a suicide, our reaction ought not be dismissive self-righteous judgment or anger. First, we ought to remind ourselves that not all suicides are of the same type. There are suicides in which a person walks to his death quite soberly, willingly, and seemingly prepared. He is actually the one who is definitely not prepared. For he lacks faith in Christ the Savior, and has preferred to take his life into his own hands, which in this case includes taking his life. His life was just as tragic as his end. And our compassion for those who do not know what it is to trust in Christ should move us at any and every stage of the life of such people we come across, to get involved with them, to give our life over to their eternal benefit.

There is, I believe, a second type of suicide. Namely, the man who is driven to his foolish deed by the devil and or the old Adam in him. Among this second group there have been Christians. They in no way died in a way which can be called worthy, or well prepared. There is nothing defensible or praiseworthy in such deaths. Yet we ought not hastily conclude that they denounced their Lord, and were without His grace and mercy.

I know nothing about the woman who fell from a building downtown today. Reports say that the police are viewing it at this point as a suicide, and not a homicide. Let it serve, however, to wake us from our spiritual sleepiness, that we may live our lives immersed in the grace of our Baptism, that is, that the old Adam in us may by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and a New Man daily come forth and arise. I capitalized New Man, for Saint Paul sums up the Baptismal life in his epistle to the Galatians thus:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

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