Life cut short magnifies death.
The sudden death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant (age 41), his daughter Gianna (age 13), and seven others (ages 13-56) in a helicopter crash in Southern California on January 26th has shaken many people to the core. The impact is similar to the global shock and grief in response to the deaths Princess Diana (age 36), Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul in August 1997.
Statistically, about 151,000 people die daily around the globe. About two-thirds of those die from age-related issues. But it’s the deaths of younger celebrities that seem to have the most impact. Consider the so-called “27 Club” of rock stars who died at the age of 27 like Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison (who all died between 1969 and 1971), Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.
In a celebrity death, we see death magnified. We experience deeply, viscerally, in ways words fail to express, the tragedy of lost potential, of earthly blessings vaporized in an instant.
For some reason, the death of a public figure brings home the vivid reality of loss that is the strongest mark of death. Everything takes on a new perspective. Time stops. People crave being together. There’s an inner drive, an instinct, to honor the person and to share memories cherished and grieve dreams lost.
Celtic spirituality (not to be confused with the Boston Celtics professional NBA basketball team!) had an insightful name for this experience. Celtic Christians (based generally in the British Isles in the 4th-6th centuries) had a concept of “thin time.” This is a moment or period when we experience that “haunting” of something much more beyond the daily world of our senses and material existence.
We live with a thick curtain between ourselves and “spiritual, eternal” realities. We are absorbed in the world we know. We hardly ever think there’s something more. Then a disruptive event, especially death, pulls back the curtain. It’s like there’s a sheer drape through which we see shadows, sense movement, and perceive a very different “reality.” This is what Christians define as The Real World.
Death poses the ultimate problem and challenge of life. Followers of Jesus grieve, the Apostle Paul said, “but not as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563 in Germany during the early years of the Protestant Reformation, presents one of the most reassuring statements of hope in the face of all life’s difficulties, including death, in all theology. Framed as a catechism (a question-answer format used to teach students through memorization), it begins with the most important question we all ask:
Lord’s Day 1 Question 1
Question 1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
Answer. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
The living Lord Jesus comforts us so we can comfort others.
A life cut short magnifies death. But the resurrected Lord Jesus magnifies Life and gives us an unshakable hope.