Fear Not (Words of Comfort for the 17th Anniversary of 9/11)

(September 11, 2018 marked the 17th anniversary of 9/11. It was a dark day, full of fear and death. Wives lost husbands, husbands lost wives, children lost parents, parents lost children - and on and on in a seemingly endless web of horror. While it is good for us to pause and reflect on such days, such moments may also find us falling victim to some of the same fears and dreads that plagued the air on 9/11. With that in mind, Pastor Quint offers these words of hope from a time that he faced the pain and fear of death).

On December 9, 2009 I came home from work happy and excited. Sarah and I had planned a quiet but meaningful evening together to celebrate our 20th anniversary. As I walked through the kitchen door I noticed that Sarah was on the phone with a stricken look upon her face. She handed me the phone with tears in her eyes, telling me that my 43-year-old brother had just died. His wife, Lisa, was asking us to join her at the hospital.

I stumbled back out to the car in shock and sadness. We got to the hospital and found Lisa. As I embraced her, I tried to think of something clever and comforting to say, but words failed me. We prayed together and then went into the hospital room where my brother had breathed his last only a short time ago. I had been working hard to control my emotions, so I could be of some assistance to those around me, but when I saw him lying there lifeless, the very thin curtain holding back my emotions evaporated in a flood of tears. We prayed again.

Then a nurse walked into the room. She let us know that she was attending my brother when he died. Then she said something that I’ll never forget:

“I’ve been in the presence of over 100 people at the moment they died. This man did not fear death.”

The Ultimate Boogey Man

Death is the ultimate boogey man, isn’t it? Death is the universal fear. Even people who don’t fear other things seem to fear death when they contemplate it. Death is the one thing that all of us are going to face one day. Not everyone gets sued, not everyone gets robbed, we won’t all face divorce, not everyone goes broke or gets laid off at work. But every person reading these words will confront death. And most people fear it, or fear something else.

And fear feels dreadful. It sucks the life out of my soul. When fear shapes my life, safety becomes my god. When safety becomes my god, I worship the risk-free life. Can the man who loves safety do anything great? Can risk-averse people accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. Fear filled people cannot love deeply. Love is risky business. They can’t give to the poor. They can’t dream big dreams. The worship of safety emasculates men.

Don’t Be Afraid

No wonder God speaks so strongly about this issue. God has a lot to say to us about fear. In fact, the most oft repeated commandment in the Bible is “don’t be afraid.” It occurs 84 times in the OT. Jesus repeats it 21 times in the Gospels. So, if quantity is an indicator, God takes our fears seriously. There is something in all of us that resonates with a deep desire to face death unafraid. To die without fright or a fight - perhaps even with a smile. To have it said of us what the nurse said about my brother, “This man did not fear death.”

Some have said that is impossible: Aristotle, Jean Paul Sartre, Rabelais, Shakespeare. They all described death with dread and pessimism. Sad. Depressing.

But suppose death is different from how those men thought about it; less of a curse and more a passageway, not a crisis to be avoided but a corner to be turned.

With some of the kindest words ever uttered, Jesus reassures us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

Jesus promised not just an afterlife, but a better life. This was a groom-to-bride promise. Jesus elevates funerals to the same hope level that we experience at weddings. From his perspective, the trip to the cemetery and the walk down the aisle warrant identical excitement. So fear not; for in Christ, death has lost its sting.