Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you. (Jeremiah 1:5).
In a week that began with natural disasters and great loss of life, I find myself, once again, reflecting on life and death. We have a sense of what a natural lifespan should be. Once three score and 10 years, now death at 70 sounds early. Premature death, whatever the cause and at whatever age, brings with it an extra sense of loss. Grief is real and painful, and it is right that, confronted with loss, we are spurred to improve medicine, living conditions, safety procedures. Yet, even as we mourn and consider our own mortality; it is important to remember also the positive of a life lived. It is important to value the present and not let an unknown or unrealised future shade it out.
Commissioning him as a prophet, God tells Jeremiah that he has known him even before he physically existed. Jeremiah has a very particular call, but we are all formed and known by God. As the psalmist observed, ‘In God’s book were written all the days formed for us, before we were born’ (Psalm 139: 16). Nowhere is God’s focus on purpose; his valuing of life as lived (regardless of length) rather than what might have been, more clearly seen than in the life, death and resurrection of his own son.
Both John and Luke reveal the tension Jesus experienced between fulfilling his purpose, which included his execution, and his natural, human desire to live. John speaks of his being deeply troubled (John 12:27), while Luke records that on the night of his arrest Jesus cried ‘If you will, remove this cup from me (Luke 22:42). To his disciples, Jesus’ death looked like the greatest tragedy of all time. Yet we can now see that the cross is the turning point in salvation history.
None of this takes away the pain of loss, nor should it distract us from tackling the issues which lead to premature deaths. It should teach us to value the present more; to live each day as if our last (Thomas Ken, ‘Awake my Soul and with the sun’). Every life matters to God, however long, however short, for by Him we are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139: 14).
Rev’d Philip Payne The Notice Sheet for 17 Sep 23 can be found here