Depart in Peace: Praying for a Good Death

[Simeon] took [Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:28-32).

Death is ugly. It is ugly to every single one of our senses, an abhorrence that terrifies us with its threats. Some deaths are much uglier than others, but any death is a horrible enemy. When we hear the details of diseases and death that friends and strangers face, we can’t help but wonder how this ugliness will come to us. Our thoughts turn to how we do or do not want to die in a particular way. These thoughts are a ritual, a way of coping with the ugliness before us. It is a pleading to be allowed to die in peace.

Simeon was a righteous and devout man, living in Jerusalem and “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” He was a prophet from of old, hoping for all God’s promises to His chosen people to be fulfilled. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he saw the Lord’s anointed one who would be for the salvation of all. He was an old man, waiting to be allowed to die in peace. When the infant Jesus was brought into the temple for the purification sacrifices after His circumcision, Simeon saw Him, took Him in his arms and cried, “Now, O God, you are letting me die in peace!” Scripture does not say when Simeon died or even what it was that eventually killed him, but it does say that his death was one of peace.

Death is ugly from the outside no matter how life ends, but God looks upon our ugliness and says, “This is mine.”  Simeon looked upon the face of an infant boy and could die in peace because this infant boy took the horror of Simeon’s death upon Himself. Bloodied and beaten with hands and feet and side pierced, Jesus looks death in the face and says, “You are ugly no more. It is finished.” Absolutely we should pray for a death with little pain and suffering, just as we pray for God to give us our daily bread. Yet we truly face death without fear, not because we will not suffer in our body, but because Jesus took our sins upon Himself and bore out God’s wrath against them. In Christ’s death, our own death has been destroyed; just as in Christ’s resurrection, our own resurrection is secure. All God’s promises have been fulfilled in Jesus. He is the light for those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death. He is the bringer of hope and peace. The death that awaits us is a death of peace, and truly when our last hour comes, God will grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.

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