By Hannah Armidon

Among many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world was an increasing sense of mortality. This was very evident in the circles of the internet that I frequent. Some had loved ones die. Many grew gravely ill and found themselves slipping gradually down the inexorable slope toward death. They began asking questions: “What does it mean?” “What happens next?” “How do I let go?” “How do I cope with these feelings?” “What is a good death?”

And thus, I discovered the Death Café movement. Death Cafés are not incredibly new; they’ve been around in multiple countries since 2011. In the pandemic, they increased exponentially. More important, they went online and became accessible to people who were actively dying. These are, at their best, gentle groups of people who find themselves faced with their mortality. Either their imminent death or the death of a loved one has led everyone present at these meetings to search for answers and companionship as they face the great mystery.

Over tea and cake, people ask the questions that have been weighing them down. People share their experiences, their belief systems, their death rituals that give closure and meaning. Grieving people share. Dying people share. There is none of the hiding that we so often find in the ways we talk about death; there is simply the knowledge that death and loss are common experiences to us all.


We all, even Christians, share the awe and fear of that moment when our spirits leave our bodies. And so, I share of the hope of the resurrection, but in a death group that hope is tempered with the grief of letting go, the holiness of the moment, and the weight of the unknowable.

We discuss rituals to make death meaningful — rituals that help us grasp what is happening or prepare us for death. In this, Christianity brings a rich heritage to the table. We all share the need for death rituals. In a culture that increasingly puts off funerals and mourning for a more convenient time months or even years down the road, we have rituals that help with death, with grieving, with hope, with loss. We anoint with oil. We commend to Jesus. We toss dirt on the casket. And even at the grave, we sing Alleluia.

We live in a world aching for a real, honest discussion of death — both the hope and the fear, the sorrow and the awe, the known and the unknown. Death Cafés provide that. But in the midst of various ideas of death being tossed about, be it reincarnation, nothingness, or turning into ghosts, Christians bring the hope of the bodily resurrection into deathless, glorified bodies like that of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ. We should not take that hope for granted. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give to a hurting and searching world.

I recently had a conversation with some neighborhood kids about death. We were planting some tomatoes, and they found out I was a pastor of some sort and knew (according to them) everything about God. (For the record, I did tell them that this was impossible without actually being God.) Their mother was dead. They had been told the usual sort of thing about their mother being an angel in heaven now, which they seemed to understand as some sort of ghost. They were sad about not being able to hug their mom in heaven.

So I told them about the resurrection of the body. I told them about Jesus, his resurrection, and the fact that someday he would raise us all up from the dead and that we who believe in him would never die again, just like him. And then we had a mini-Death Café on my front porch. We talked about death, the things we know, the things we don’t know, and how God fits into all that. We talked about Jesus. We talked about gravestones. We talked about ghosts. They gained some real, concrete hope through talking about their fears.

In the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I can remember offhand at least ten “hell dimensions” vividly portrayed. Popular imagination has no difficulty with the idea of a bodily hell of torment. However, there is only one description of a “heaven dimension,” described as a sort of vague, disembodied feeling of being safe and loved. This, or the idea of being an angel in heaven floating around with wings and a harp being vaguely bored, is all people can imagine of heaven.

We desperately need a “heavenly imagination.” We need to teach and preach why the bodily resurrection of Jesus is such good news — not in a “so we go to heaven when we die” way, but in a way that communicates the power found in the hope of the resurrection of the body. Jesus, in his glorified, resurrected, ascended humanity, has created a new, deathless prototype of humanity. He has opened the way to us for everlasting life in deathless glory with God in a new creation that is not marred by sin, pain, or death. In that creation we will live and walk with God and worship and delight in what God has wrought in us and all of creation. This is far better news than a weak pseudo-angelic going to heaven when we die.

The resurrection of the body isn’t just a line from the Apostles’ Creed. It brings hope to grieving children. It changes the way we understand our lives and our deaths. It gives us the strength to die well. It gives us hope in suffering. It helps us bear the sorrow and grief of death because we know that God is greater than all of it.

What would happen if we held Death Cafés for our churches? For children? For our communities?

In the Church, many of us have grief groups. We need Christian Death Cafés. We need to hold them online and in our churches; we need to join those that already exist and listen. We need to be willing to talk about great and dark and holy mysteries, to sit in uncertainties, to honor grief. And we need to talk about the concrete hope of the resurrection of the body — the fact that death is not our end. Our end is to be made like Christ, radiant with the light of the triune God. And we can hug in heaven.

About The Author

The Rev. Hannah Armidon is a priest in the Diocese of Springfield and a Ph.D. Candidate in Old Testament and Theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto.

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