Thought for the Day by Alan Griggs of St Chad’s
Good Death or Bad Death? Both of today’s readings are about the death of a King of Israel -1000 years apart in time but even further apart in their attitudes.
One was arrogant, the other humble. It is easy to choose who to imitate.
Herod Agrippa 1 was king of Israel 37-44 CE. He was the grandson of Herod the Great (the one who ordered the massacre of the Innocents). Agrippa 1 ordered the execution of James the brother of John; when he saw this pleased the Jews, he ordered the arrest of Simon Peter as well. He quarrelled with the people of Tyre and Sidon, who depended on Israel for their grain. They were granted an audition with the King who arrived with great pomp in a dazzlingly bright silver robe. He impressed his hearers so much that they thought he was a god. He did not deny it. We are told that because he had not given glory to God, he was, at that moment, seized with violent pains, and died a few days later. Much of this we know, not only from the Bible , but from the historian, Josephus.
The other lesson records the last words of King David, the great and wise king who subdued Israel’s enemies and brought about a unified kingdom and a period of peace. He was not without his faults. He was criticised for calling a Census of the people, He had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. He ordered the death of Uriah and married Bathsheba. For this he was sternly rebuked by the prophet Nathan. (He had, after all, broken 4 of the 10 commandments in one go!.) David confessed his sin and repented of what he had done. Overall he was a good and compassionate ruler, much admired by the people and remembered especially for composing many of the Psalms.
Death is much in the news at present. Every day news bulletins tell us the number of people who have died of the corona-virus (and we shouldn’t forget the many others who have died because their treatment was interrupted). Many people are more anxious than normal, resulting in much mental illness and even suicide.. We long to hear Good News, but there isn’t much around. But it is possible to have an unreasonable fear of dying. In recent years there has been a reluctance to talk about it = a kind of taboo of speaking about it. Today it seems to be all about the numbers; many of us can’t visualize 41,000 deaths . But most of us know, or know of, people who have died. We grieve for them and for those close to them.
But we all have to accept that we are not immortal. And dying is very often not nearly as frightening as we sometimes imagine. Medical care, and especially the Hospice movement, have helped to ease the process of dying and to reduce the pain. But it has also shewn how there can be peace and even joy around the death of those we love. Visitors to hospices are often amazed at the atmosphere they find. A small group in Leeds is setting up some Zoom seminars on the theme of ‘With the end in mind’. Life goes on and love cannot be broken.