As I write it’s the week before Easter (Holy Week) and we are in lockdown in the middle of the corona virus pandemic. The Prime Minister is in intensive care and the death toll is rising. The talk is of how many deaths there will be, a topic that is not normally spoken about is in the forefront of everyone’s thoughts – who will survive? Of course, also very much in our minds and thoughts are the frontline NHS staff and all other ‘key workers’, who are putting their lives at risk to save others and keep the community and society functioning. However there already have been casualties, both directly from the virus and indirectly from the shutdown of much of society. And there will be many more particularly as the economic fall out becomes clearer over the months and years to come. This is very much the story and point of Easter.
Death is not something we readily talk about or are prepared for really. Whilst I was in the RN I only ever experienced someone dying on board at sea once, and it was a difficult time. I realise that for many on the front line this was an all too common experience during conflict and war. We were at sea in the gulf and the pipe was made ‘casualty, casualty, casualty’. The first aid teams responded, and the doctor worked on ‘Chiefy’ but sadly was not able to save him and he died from a massive heart attack.
The next few days were difficult. We had to arrange the repatriation of his body, whilst trying to maintain the operational posture and look after our young ships company most of whom had not experienced death in such close proximity. There were some lighter moments of course. His body was put in the chiller compartment until we could get alongside and complete the repatriation. Some of our ships company refused point blank to eat anything which had been in the chiller … Then as is tradition at sea we organized the ‘sale of effects’. Many of our younger shipmates had not experienced this and were upset and angry at what seemed to them ghoulish and insensitive behavior ‘just because it was a tradition’. We urged them to attend the sale on the flight deck and see what happened. The first lot was his razor. Obviously I did not shave and had no need for a razor, however I and the ‘Buffer’ who also had a splendid beard embarked on a bidding war, with me winning with some ridiculous bid of £70 or something. Promptly put it back and the buffer went for it again … and so it continued and we raised several thousand pounds for his family, all his kit went home and the ships company learnt a new lesson that day.
The ships company were asking all sorts of questions, which are being asked by the whole world at the moment:
- Had we done enough to try and save him?
- Would we get through this?
- Would life and routines ever return to ‘normal?
The answer was ‘yes we had’ done all we could, but that had to be worked through especially by those directly involved in his care. Would we get through and things return to normal ? Yes of course, life and the deployment continued. But we had been changed by the experience and many had been confronted by the reality that we are not immortal and will all die at some point. And these things continue affecting us – it all came back to the forefront when we got back to the UK and had his widow and family on board to scatter his ashes at sea. These things have ongoing effects.
So what about Easter?
‘Chiefy’s death left the ships company changed, and the coronavirus will inevitably leave a huge mark on the whole of mankind. But we will get through it, things will have changed for sure, but life will continue, just as the deployment had to. Easter left the world changed. The death of one man changed the whole course of human history both in this world and in the next ie after we die – which we will. So as we are confronted with death we have a choice. The story of Easter, Jesus’ death on a cross and, as Christians believe, his resurrection from the dead to new life so that we could have a restored relationship with God, demands a response from us. Who do you believe he was? It’s often said that he had to be one of three things:
A clever deceiver and liar
Who he said he was – the son of God.
If you believe he was the son of God, then the story of Easter makes sense and you will not have any fear when confronted with death, you will know that you are going to spend eternity with him. So while this pandemic continues to ravage the world and the prospect of death looms very large for us, and our families and friends, ask yourself this question:
Who do you believe Jesus was?
I pray that you find in Him complete forgiveness and peace, and assurance of eternity with him.
See you next time ….