Holy Sonnet X

Anastasis, Chora Church, 14th c
You only get to die once. Practice scorning death now so that you regard it with the proper contempt when the time comes.

You only get to die once. Practice scorning death now so that you regard it with the proper contempt when the time comes, and men may say of you, “He died / As one that had been studied in his death / To throw away the dearest thing he owed / as ’twere a careless trifle” (Malcolm, from Macbeth, Act I, scene 4). The upper level class memorized Holy Sonnet X at the beginning of the school year, and the 3rd-5th class is putting the final touches on their memorization of it now.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
     John Donne

Death has a frightening reputation among men. But why? Christ has risen from the dead and will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him (Rom. 6:9). Jesus promises, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:40). And the Scripture says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into 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” (Rom. 6:3-4).

Because Christ will raise the dead, those whom death kills don’t stay dead, but get up again. Thus death is more like rest and sleep, and since we derive pleasure from those, death must provide even more pleasure. In the end, we’re going to be alive. And what of death? Death shall be no more. So we see who really ends up dead: “Death, thou shalt die.”

Image: Anastasis, Chora Church, 14th c.

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