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Wednesday Devotional: Jesus > Death

Revelation 1: 17-18

I was fascinated to see in person the astronomical clock at Strasbourg Cathedral in France. A nearly 60-foot high 19th century update of medieval and Renaissance predecessors, the clock tracks not only time but the date, positions of the moon and planets, and Zodiac tracking. But the clock's main attraction is its cast of animated characters.

Movable representations include mythological characters, such as Saturn riding his chariot across the sky. Angels ring a bell and tip the sands of time. But there are two levels of characters of most interest to me, as shown in the attached photo.

The lower of the two levels is dominated by a skeleton representing death. On the quarter-hour, representations of a child, a teenager, an adult, and an old man take turns passing in front of the skeleton. On the hour, the skeleton chimes the hour by striking a bell with a hammer.

The upper of two levels shows Jesus Christ. The apostles rotate by him at 12:30 p.m. each day. What I like most is the intentional positioning of Jesus above the skeleton, symbolizing that Jesus reigns over death.

I thought of this clock again this week while praying for a friend's neighbor who is facing a runaway cancer diagnosis. While I'm praying for a miracle, I realize the odds are stacked against her. Once again, I'm reminded that death comes to us all, that we all pass in front of the skeleton chiming out our precious remaining hours.

The Bible contains the Good News that Jesus reigns over death, as the Risen Christ proclaims in Revelation 1: 17-18:

"Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

Our fear is great, but Jesus tells us not to be afraid. It's common in the Bible that when people encounter heavenly creatures, their first reaction is fear, and the heavenly creature responds with "Do not be afraid." The first thing we must do when heaven touches earth is to lose our fear.

Then we can focus on the presence and message of the Living One, who stands above the skeleton of death. As the United Church of Canada's New Creed proclaims, "In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God."

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