In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Perhaps it was the specter of death on Christmas Eve that started my thoughts on the subject, but I find this sentence out of the Book of Common Prayer most captivating. It appears in the funeral service although its origin falls in some uncertainty. Understanding the context reminds us that it deals with the struggle of the reality of death. Not perhaps an appropriate thought for the new year.
Even so, I think the reverse of the statement is a better thought. Perhaps for the new year, you may consider the thought that "in the midst of death, we are in life." The original phrase points to the reality of the inevitability of death. The reverse reminds us that we have hope in life, even in the midst of the fallen state of the world. We cannot ignore the reality of the state the world is in. We live in the midst of what one former president called a "culture of death." While he thought politically rather than spiritually, the truth remains. It is not a natural occurrence, but a moral necessity. James reminds that "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Sin kills society, culture, bodies, and nations. As far as the curse of sin is spread as it has passed to every man, the universal taint fills the earth. We indeed do live in the midst of death. We see it in every face and every news report. We smell it in the air wafting through the urban detritus. We touch it in every object that rust, rots, or ruins. We hear it in the minor chords and cries that assault our ears. We taste it in the salt of our own tears. And in that inexplicable place where all senses find their internal root, we understand that the law of entropy not only explains the distribution of energy, but also the continual disintegration of things due to sin.
How then do we look upon a new year with any hope? In the face of such evidence, the naturalist must look to the future only in fear and the expectation of further deterioration. There would be no happy new year. Yet, "in the midst of death, we are in life." A different force operates within us, one not constrained by the encumbrances of sin. Truly, the Lord was justly displeased for our sins, but He is no longer. In Christ, the death that sin wrought has been broken. Now, life reigns within us. The future holds no fear for those in Christ Jesus. Rather, we look forward in anticipation. We may rub shoulders with death, but our connection is ephemeral and brief. The light of Life flows in our veins and erodes the remaining cancer of sin within.
We not only move to the different law working within us, but we anticipate the increase of that law in the Providence that governs the events surrounding us. Upon the inward reality, we expect outward confirmation. Or, as the apostle Paul writes, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Ro. 8:32) The inward testimony of the indwelling Spirit of Christ signals the beauty of external things. Certainly, this does not permit us the indulgence of unbridled optimism. Rather, it encourages us to see in Providence, whether bright or dark, the loving hand that leads us to brighter vistas.
This year, how will you characterize each moment? "In the midst of life we are in death?" or "In the midst of death, we are in life?"