“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
“I believe that all is well and that it is well with my soul,” said Rev. Dr. Don Hampton, pastor of New Vision Community Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. This was part of a livestreamed Sunday message he sent from his bed in a hospital isolation ward. He added: “I keep a praise handy in my heart. I keep a word and I just continue to try to do the Lord’s will even from a hospital bed.”
Two days later, he learned he had COVID-19. The following night, he was dead.
He is just one of the religious leaders who are making news by their lives and now their deaths. Another is Rev. Franco Minardi, who served for seventy years as the parish priest in Ozzano Taro, a farming town in Italy, before he died of coronavirus at the age of ninety-four.
Another is Sister Maria Ortensia Turati, one of six nuns killed by COVID-19 in a convent in northern Italy. She founded missions in the Philippines and Ivory Coast, then led her order and its many schools in Chile.
They died in the Lord, and they did not die alone.
A fact Good Friday makes clear
There are many fears associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
We fear getting it and dying of it. We fear that our families and friends will get it and die of it. We fear losing our jobs and lifestyles. We fear that this will become another Great Recession or worse. We fear that there will not be a “normal” on the other side of the pandemic, whenever that comes.
And many of us fear facing this disease alone.
If I become hospitalized with COVID-19, my wife cannot visit me. If I die in the hospital, healthcare workers will be there but my family will not. Many around the world are dying of this horrible disease at home and alone.
But God’s children are never alone, a fact Good Friday makes clear.
When you die, you don’t
Wherever you go, God was there first.
Moses fled from Egypt, but God didn’t flee from him. David rejected God’s word when he sinned with Bathsheba, but God did not reject him. Jonah fled from the Lord but ran into him.
Peter denied Christ, but Christ didn’t deny him (John 21:15–19). Paul persecuted Christians, but Christ loved Paul. John was exiled from his church, but not from his Lord (Revelation 1:9–17).
And when you die (unless Jesus returns first), you will not be alone. In fact, Jesus promised us, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). That’s because, in that moment, he will “take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
When you die, you don’t.
This gift costs us nothing: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). That’s because it cost Jesus everything.
“Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
When Peter was explaining the gospel to Cornelius and his family and close friends, the apostle said of Jesus, “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 10:39). Tree is the same Greek word (xylon) as was used in the Septuagint (the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) version of Deuteronomy 21:23, “cursed by God is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
As a result, we know that Jesus in his death was “cursed” by God so we could be redeemed: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).
It is as though we were being strapped onto the table in the execution chamber when Jesus took our place and the needle meant for us. Or we were standing before a firing squad when he stepped in front of us and took the bullets that would have killed us.
Last Sunday, my wife and I watched the first episode in the new PBS series, World on Fire. (Spoiler alert follows.) It is a powerful depiction of the horror and disruption of World War II for those who were among its first victims.
At one point a young woman is set to flee her Nazi-occupied city with her new husband. She meets him at the train station along with her little brother, ostensibly to say goodbye to him. Her husband boards the train and turns to her. At the last moment, she thrusts her little brother into his arms just as the doors close and the train departs, sparing his life at the risk of her own.
“It’s not enough to have lived”
On this Good Friday, know that the worst that could happen to Christians leads to the best that can happen to us. And know that whatever comes to us, Jesus will never leave us.
No matter how long we live, we should remember Winston Churchill’s maxim: “It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”
Will you live for the One who died for you?