A Good Day to Die
Not too long ago when MS Windows operating systems were rather unstable and prone to crash, my computer employed a set of Windows audio sounds and commands taken from one of my favorite TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. When my operating system was about to crash, the voice of Worf would announce: It is a good day to die! I hated to hear that epithet, usually shouting back in exasperation: It is not a good day to die! as I was about to lose unsaved material and would need to reboot my computer. Reflecting on Worf’s exclamation, what might constitute a good day to die? Excepting the perspective of Klingons, is there such a thing as a good day to die?
Is any day a good day to die? Is there such a thing as a good death? It certainly was not a good day to die when our first parents ate of the forbidden fruit in the garden. Since then, the world of unbelief has tried to ignore the effects of that death on us and has posited lame solutions. In past pagan cultures, and even in today’s secular world, some hold the romantic thought that the cycles we observe in nature offer a positive picture of how we ought to view our own death. Like all living things, we just recycle. How silly!
When Adam and Eve were tossed out of the garden, the ground was not rested; it was cursed. As Adam’s body came from the dirt he walked on, it also returned to it. The wages of sin is death, not recycling. The dead stay dead. The women came to the tomb of Jesus to anoint a dead body out of respect for the departed Jesus, not to prepare for some cycle of return. They came looking for a dead Jesus. There is no cyclical springtime for sinful humans under the curse.
Even the most unreligious farmer today knows the difference between a fallow field and a graveyard. Corn cycles, humans don't. Because of sin there is death. And because of death, there are graveyards. And because there are graveyards, there are loved ones who visit to pay their respects and grieve those who are dead and buried. What makes for a good death is not hope of getting recycled. It is the certain hope of a resurrection that can follow as the women and disciples of Jesus first discovered about His empty tomb.
As the Church is poised to begin another season of Lent, Ash Wednesday has traditionally marked its beginning. On this day, the worshipping faithful are reminded that the major problem of sin arising from the curse of the ground is not sweat from toilsome labors; it is death (Genesis 3:19). As a reminder, a cross of palm ashes placed upon the forehead are offered penitents with the words: You are dust, and to dust you shall return (again, Genesis 3:19). These words remind also of words still spoken at our burial services from the old English Common Book of Prayer: From ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
But, back to the question: Is there such a thing as a good day to die and what might that be and why? I would like to suggest that any day is a good to die so long as it follows the first good day to die—the first good death we experience in the waters of baptism. The Apostle explained that a good death results from being crucified with Christ in baptism.
Do you not know that those of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? In order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:3-5
Christian baptism is no once-and-done event. Luther reminded us that there is always a present-tense of our baptism right up to the day of our final breath in this life. We can say: I was baptized, I am being baptized, and I will be baptized. The death with Christ to sin and the rising unto new life in His resurrection were singular events for our Lord. However, Luther understood that they are to be every day events for us. We are daily to die to sin from our crosses and the hammering of the Law; and then raised up again and again in His life-giving watery Word.
Every day for the baptized is a good day to die! From the poverty of our sin to the riches of His grace; from repentance to faith, from death to life.
When we are finally translated into glory on the Better Day, it will be the crowning day of our baptism. It will be our best day to die. We will experience then the full inheritance of the resurrected new life, freed forever from every aspect of sin and the curse of the ground. No more death, no more thorns or thistles, no more pain and suffering . . . and yes, no sweat! Every day is a good day to die to sin because every day is a good day to live with Christ. Every day is a good day to give Him our sins and to be blown away by the priceless treasure of His grace. To die to sin is to live with Christ, now and always. Blessed Ash Wednesday to you... it is a good day to die!
Dr. Steven A. Hein currently serves as Director of The Concordia Institute for Christian Studies, an organization that offers auxiliary educational services to pastors and church gatherings across the country and in West Africa. He also serves as an affiliate professor at The Institute of Lutheran Theology and Colorado Christian University.
This book offers a radically different perspective from that of many best-selling authors concerning how the Christian should measure and evaluate travel along God’s path of righteousness.