Summary: Life has to be more than what many in our time think it is. It does have meaning, as does death, if we live out of our sense of the purposes of God and if we have Christ as our constant companion.
He was all of thirteen years old, just beginning to emerge from boyhood and to fill out a little. He seemed, to look at him, alert, intelligent, full of the mischief you would expect from somebody entering the awkward years. His voice wavered between high-pitched laughter and the creaking croaking of adolescence. He was the picture of youth, with everything ahead of him, with no memory of tragedy, with no disappointments any more serious than being made second string on the baseball team.
Then why would he sport a T-shirt adorned with palm trees and proclaiming in raw red letters, "Life’s a beach, and then you die"? On a thirteen-year-old chest, "Life’s a beach, and then you die"? Why not something like, "My parents visited Acapulco, and all I got was this lousy shirt"? Why not a shirt with an arrow on it pointing to the left and proclaiming, "I’m hers", in the hope that there would some day be somebody to wear its companion, "I’m his"? Why not something else, anything else -- but "Life’s a beach, and then you die?" Not on the backs of young people. In fact, not on the backs or on the minds of anyone.
Frankly, thinking that all I am about is partying for three score and ten or so years and then shuffling off this mortal coil -- that frightens me. That troubles me. To reduce the meaning of our lives to nothing more than providing ourselves with entertainment until our numbers are up -- that’s just not enough. There has to be more. A pop singer of a generation ago sang it well, "Is that all there is?"
I grant you that there is nothing more sobering on a lovely spring day than to make ourselves think about the meaning of our deaths. When the cherry blossoms are at their peak and the breeze caresses us, it is a time for love and for laughter, and not for thinking of death. When crabapple colors delight the eye and star magnolias burst into glory, something down deep begins to stir and to invite us to live, just to live. And that’s great. That’s wonderful ... until that T-shirt and its out-of-place sentiment attack us again. "Life’s a beach ... and then you die." Whatever does that mean?
It means that death always comes as a jarring reality, grinding against the fantasies we d like to live. It is like driving your car with the parking brake applied; you can keep going, but something is dragging you back. Something is keeping you from getting on with your life.
That thing that is keeping us from getting on with our lives, is the awareness that someday we must die. The brake applied to the headlong forward rush of our lives is that terrible tag phrase, "... and then you die." It works against what the poet Tennyson says about us, that "we think we are not made to die."
Let’s cut to the bottom line. We just don’ t know what meaning death has, and so in the last analysis we don’ t know what meaning life has either. We don’t see any sense in death because we haven’t made sense of life first.
And so I want to tell you today that in Jesus the Christ, the meaning of life and therefore the meaning of death become clear. I want you to see that in Him, through Him, and because of Him, you can make sense of your life and therefore of your death. Because of Him ... because He is alive, you and I can live with meaning and can therefore die with more meaning.
There are two ways in which Christ works to make sense of both our lives and our deaths. First, He gives us meaning because in His risen life, full of God’s purpose, we also can live with purpose. And second, He gives us meaning simply by being our constant, eternal companion and by loving us, affirming us unconditionally.
First, you can make sense of life and therefore of death if you can learn to live out of God’s purposes and plans for your life. You can find meaning in your life if it has direction and purpose, born out of your perception of what God has called you to be. And then you can also find meaning in death, for you can anticipate hearing His acclaim, ’’Well done."
The disciples who remained behind after their master had been cruelly crucified on Friday were, of course, devastated. They were severely damaged -- not only because they had lost a friend and a leader, but, deeper, because they did not see the point of it. They had not really learned from their teacher very much about the meaning of His life, and therefore they could not for the moment grasp the meaning of His death. From time to time He had tried to tell them that as the Christ of God He would have to suffer and would have to die, but they kept on refusing to see it that way. They rejected it every time Jesus had tried to tell them about His destiny. One of them, the big, blustering Peter, had even tried to shut Jesus up about all this death talk. And since they had never understood the purpose of His life, they could not make sense either of His death.