I have been planning another post about Twitter and the changes brought by the internet. I never dreamt that it would be on this topic.
On Saturday afternoon, at 11 minutes past 6, 23 year old Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the turf of White Hart Lane football stadium. He had suffered a heart attack and lay dying in front of 36,000 thousand horrified spectators and a much larger audience on television.
A team of six medics fought frantically to keep him alive as fans of both teams began chanting his name, urging him to cling to life, even as it ebbed away. Amazingly, although at the time of writing Muamba remains critically ill in hospital, he seems narrowly to have escaped becoming a very public victim of sudden adult death syndrome (SADS). SADS is a collective term for the consequences of a range of hidden heart abnormalities on otherwise fit, indeed often extremely fit, young people: sudden, catastrophic, heart failure.
This has a particular poignancy for my family. Four years ago, on January 29th 2008, my younger brother died in a similar way while on honeymoon. It is an appalling thing to experience the utter powerlessness a family faces in that situation. Death creeps in uninvited, steals what is most precious and leaves no explanation. In fact, it leaves nothing but the futile anger and bitterness of grief.
I can understand, then, why Twitter suddenly lit up on Saturday with the hashtag #prayformuamba. What else is there left to do, in the face of such an implacable foe? Who but God can help in such a situation?
It is ironic that this should happen at a time when as a nation we seem, in some ways, to have made an unprecedented dismissal of God from our national life. Whatever one thinks about the debate on marriage, for instance, at the highest levels of government and the media, the idea that there might be a God who has something to contribute to the debate has been dismissed out of hand. Despite this, a shocking event like that of Saturday afternoon can see people to whom it might never normally occur to pray find themselves publicly urging others to take to their knees.
Amongst a certain type of person, it seems to have become de rigeur to speak of ‘quietly returning to the biomass’ when we die and of death being a vital part of the amazing process that brought us about in the first place. Yet all but the most ardent sceptics have a powerful sense that death is quite simply wrong, that it is alien and an enemy and somehow (contrary to all experience) unnatural. Faced with the brutal reality of death, most of us find that sense overwhelming and are driven back to seek help from its only possible source, the one who gave life.
So what would Jesus say to people tweeting and retweeting #prayformuamba? It is always risky speaking for another, but just perhaps he would say something along the lines of: ‘You’re absolutely right to ask me to help Muamba, but I can do much better than that: how about I deal with death once and for all?’
That in his death and resurrection Jesus did not simply give death a bloody nose but dealt it a mortal wound has been my solace in my family’s own tragedy. He came to give life to those enslaved by the fear of death, and that’s what he did for me and for all of his own.
As for our national rejection of the institution of marriage, I’m convinced that a right respect for marriage will keep the nation from all sorts of horrors. For the sake of our children and those unborn we should do all we can to defend it. But as people of Jesus we are about something much bigger, more glorious and wonderful than that: a cure for death. Let us never give anyone reason to doubt it.
Photo by Crystian Cruz