Passengers to the grave


The holidays are now behind us and we are all trying to make it through our first full week back to work, feeling exhausted.  My husband and I celebrated our second Christmas together and have begun the tradition of watching Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together.  This play is profound on so many levels, and it inspired me to write a Christmas post last year and has inspired me again, though I am now two weeks late in addressing it.  It is profound in that Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by his business partner from the grave who confronts him for being selfish and stingy.  He makes money, he hoards his money, and he begrudges family, people, and Christmas.  Then three ghosts come to visit him to show to him Christmases past – which led him to his current state, Christmases present – in which his family mocks him and he is dreadfully alone, and Christmases future – where people rejoice over his passing, all culminating in his eternal destiny of roaming the Earth with chains of misfortune weighing him down and giving him no rest. Scrooge reforms himself, celebrating Christmas better than anyone and giving back, all with the hopes of earning a better eternity, and in this we see that it has been the nature of mankind to aspire to earn one’s standing before God for generations!

What caught my attention this year was the opening dialogue between Ebenezer and his nephew, Fred.  Fred defends his celebration of the season thus:

There are many things from which I have derived good, by which I have not profited, I daresay.  Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure that I always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – as a good time:  the only time I know of, when men and women seem to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, Uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and that it will do me good:  and I say, God bless it!

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Fred claims that the nature of the season of Christmas, to him, is that people consider one another as “fellow-passengers to the grave”.  They were dealing with issues of class and hierarchical systems in England at the time, and Fred observes that on Christmas people are simply people.  But the defining characteristic of personhood, to Fred, is that we are all passengers to the grave.  This sounds quite fatalistic in our rendering:  the term passengers implies that we have no control on the ride of life, and the grave being our ultimate end.  And because we have no control and because there is no future, we should take the day to eat, drink, be merry and do good to others.  Sound a little familiar?

“So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.”

– Ecc 8.15

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

– Is 22.13b

Solomon, the wisest of men to have ever walked the face of the Earth, explored at great depths the meaning of life.  Intellectual people, and the great reformers and fathers of the faith, are often melancholy in disposition.  They over think and analyze life, looking for eternal purpose and wrestle with life’s frivolity.  Solomon wrote a book on the topic, it is called “Ecclesiastes” and he opens and closes the book with the phrase,

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”

– Ecc 1.2, 12.8

Everything is meaningless, he concludes.  He experiments with every pleasure known to man:  sex, alcohol, money, power, fame, good deeds, everything.  And in the end he realizes that none of it can satisfy.  So he says, in jest, if this is all there is then live it up!  But he knows that there is more:  there is eternity, there is relationship with God.  There is salvation.  There is eternity.

What is so dynamic about Fred’s speech, however, is that he considers is a good thing to think of humanity as on it’s way to the grave!  Here in the west we avoid death at all costs, and encountering it sends people into a tailspin of depression and confusion.  This has not been the case throughout history.  Many tribal peoples, historically, waited months before naming their infants because infant mortality rate was so high – they wanted to wait to see if the child would live before naming it.  Wars and feuds often left families broken.  People often had numerous spouses because husbands would die in war and at work, and wives would die in childbirth!  But nowadays there are people in their thirties and forties who still have never attended a funeral!  We do not encounter death, and we rarely consider what happens beyond it.  And this, I believe, is part of the difficulty Christians have in explaining salvation.

But we are all bound for the grave.  We are all passengers on a train over which we have no control, and sooner or later we will meet our maker.  What, then, should we do?

Therefore in that day the Lord God of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing,
To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth.
Instead, there is gaiety and gladness,
Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep,
Eating of meat and drinking of wine:
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

– Is 22.12-13

Let’s not be like the Hebrew people who ignored reality.  Let’s not even be like Fred and ultimately Scrooge who thought being good to people and doing good things was the highest end.  Let’s live life in it’s fullness, to the glory of God.  Let’s know and love God and store up treasures in Heaven – treasures that will not fade away.  Nothing we do here on Earth will last aside from glorifying God and bringing others to glorify Him.

How is your perspective?  Is it temporal?  Is it momentary?  Is it on the flesh?  Or is it eternal?


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