O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 KJV
Sunday’s Washington Post recounted the story of Ghana’s dancing pallbearers. Dancing is a fixture at funerals there—upbeat performers wearing black suits, sunglasses and patent leather shoes, grooving to a tech-no beat while carrying a coffin. This unusual ritual is intended to make mourners grin through grief. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic raging, these comedic grim reapers are being edited into footage of risky behavior as a warning to stay at home or die. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, millions of clicks on their videos have created an international fan base for the dancing pallbearers.
The Post article comments “At a time when mortality is on everyone’s minds, morbid humor seems to be a popular coping mechanism.”
Death is no laughing matter. It is a serious matter—we might even say, a life and death matter. No one will get out of this world alive, so how do we handle the fear that fact can bring?
Is humor the best way—dancing at funerals? Charlie Chaplin said “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you’ll just smile.” In a silent movie Chaplin portrayed a prisoner on board a slave ship. After shipwreck, he made his way to the beach by holding on to a board. Shackles still chafing his ankles, he tried humor to be rid of them—walking the length of the chain, he fell. Then he tried philosophy—again, he only made it as far as the chain allowed. Next he tried denial, saying this wasn’t happening to him—with the same result of failure. Finally, the film depicts him looking heavenward hopefully—realizing if he is ever to be free, he’ll need outside help.
People still attempt similar ways to deal with death—laughter, philosophy, denial. Our only hope is the Lord Jesus Christ, who “died to break the power of death and set us free from living our lives in the fear of dying.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Trusting our Savior, we can face death confidently, even joyfully—a far better way than joking, trying to think our way out of it, or denying its reality. A beautiful prayer confesses our faith:
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of humankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return.
For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
– Book of Common Prayer
The last Old Testament prophet wrote that the Sun of Righteousness frees us to “leap with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2). David praised God for turning his mourning into joyful dancing (Psalm 30:11). Our victorious Savior can do the same for us.
Michael Kelly Blanchard wrote lilting lyrics in The Bonnie Breath of God —
I see the sorrow that has left your heart almost paralyzed frozen in the frost of fear.
Real forgiveness falls like a rain from heaven sent to free us from the dreads we feel.
God’s been dancing two thousand years ever since Jesus showed up around here.
I know everything you’ve ever been through, and I’ve got some very, very good news.
I love ya so much I wanna dance with you.
The living Lord invites us to join him in his victory dance—replacing our blues with the jig of joy. Rubem Alves, American theologian, said “Hope is hearing the melody of the future; faith is dancing to that melody here and now.” If we spend more time listening to that melody, we’ll learn some new dance steps.
© Johnny R. Almond
Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church
Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity