There was a BBC camera shot of the Queen at the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh that seemed a gross intrusion. The director and cameraman could have had no conception of the pain that was being felt, no understanding of the emotions that may have been experienced at that moment.
No matter at what age it comes, death always brings grief.
Fifty years ago, at the time of decimalisation in Britain in early 1971, there was reportedly a lady who told a reporter that she didn’t mind the idea of the decimal money, but that she thought that the Government might have waited for the old people to die before they brought the new money in. Everyone laughed when the story was told. Sometimes, though, there seems to be a sort of sense in what she was saying. Sometimes it seems that it would be a whole lot easier if things could be put off for just a while.
During my years of parochial ministry, if I had been asked for what I would wish if I could wish for anything, I would have asked for a moratorium on people dying, at least on my patch, so that I could get through to retirement without having to stand wordless as another family lost a loved one.
I hate death. I hate all the euphemisms we use for it. I hate watching the grief and the pain. I hate the emptiness that is still there years afterwards.
It would be a nonsense to suggest that Christians are meant to be reconciled to death. Saint Francis, whatever else he may have got right, got it wrong when he spoke of our “Sister Death.” The Bible never uses such benign terms about something so dark. Saint Paul is quite clear about where we stand. He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” No sisterly regard from that apostle, no ambiguity, death is an enemy that is to be destroyed. There was no mistaking what Saint Paul says. There was no mistaking what Saint Peter says either. The dead were trapped in Hades and Jesus goes to preach to them in order that they might have a chance of escape. The idea that death was a sister would have sounded strange and alien to the Jewish ears of Peter: death was an end, a negation of life.
Perhaps the BBC television crew were unmoved at the death of a ninety-nine year old man, perhaps they would have argued that the camera shots of the Queen were in the public interest. Perhaps it is only the experience of grief that persuades people that death is an enemy.