There are a lot of things in Latino culture that I, a white kid raised in Asia, don’t get. But one of the things that I DO get is the Latino celebration of “Dia de los Muertos” – the Day of the Dead.
This past week we confessed part of the addendum to the Small Catechism, “Christian Questions and Their Answers.” Luther wrote these questions as a preparation for Holy Communion, because what it meant for Luther to be prepared for the Sacrament didn’t have to do with fasting or lengthy prayers as it did in his Roman Catholic past. Instead for Luther, being prepared for the Sacrament meant being clear on your faith in Christ and what was offered in the Sacrament.
Why should we remember and proclaim Christ’s death?
First, so that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.
Dia de los Muertos in Hispanic populations is sort of a combination Halloween and All Saints celebration. There are somewhat garish candy skulls and other “spooky” things but there are also remembrances of the dead that aren’t spooky – the remembrances of dead loved ones who have gone on before into that reality where mystery and hope meet together in Jesus Christ.
There is much in our culture that would lead us to not remember and proclaim death – certainly not our own, but even death as a concept. The theologian Arthur C. McGill postulates that our cultural notion of death is one where death is always catastrophic, unnatural, and not a part of our human order. And certainly that seems to come from a vestige of God’s image in which He created us for an eternity that we have lost as a result of original sin. But that means that in our world, death is natural, even if just for this time before the Resurrection. Death is not a calamity, but an eventuality.
The doctor who delivered me as a baby, Dr. Orencia, had this saying – “Human life has a 100% mortality rate.” It’s especially jarring to hear that from the guy who saw you take your first breath. But it’s a reality. It was a reality for Jesus, and so it is a reality for me, and for those whom I love. But that doesn’t mean that I have to fear it above all things. No, rather, if I know that Jesus has gone before me, I know that I will be ok – even in death.
The candy skull is the cultural symbol for Dia de los Muertos, the sweetness of sugar mixed with the jarring image of death’s head. And perhaps it is a symbol for us Christians as well, for in death we find the sweetness of Christ. For our bodies will be raised imperishable because of Jesus, and our lives will go on forever in a Resurrection that will eat candy skulls with a vague remembrance of what it was like to fear death.