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Jesus' life is an example of the Christian life. His death is no different. Willing to submit to the will of his Father, even unto death, Jesus shows us the true cost of following God. But even in death, Jesus provides an example, not only of extreme obedience, but also of how to die.

Ars Moriendi, the art of dying, was a 15th-century book of instructions to assist in dying well. Explaining that the Christian need not fear death, it outlined the five temptations that confront a dying person: lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride, and avarice. Illustrated with woodcuts, Ars Moriendi showed how to overcome these temptations and achieve a good death. The instruction was particularly relevant in an era when the Bubonic plague was a constant threat.

Jesus' last words on the Cross provide another model of ars moriendi. He reconciles with his persecutors and his neighbors. He takes care of his earthly estate. Jesus acknowledges his spiritual and physical state as a dying man, and he accepts his life's end. Finally, Jesus actively commends his spirit to his Heavenly Father. Though his death was inevitable, Jesus was not passive. He took an active role in his own death.

The Ars Moriendi woodcuts were especially relevant in an age where the plague changed the way Europeans viewed death. In a different way, Americans are undergoing a shift in how they view death. Despite living longer, healthier lives, Americans also experience longer periods of declining health. A recent study found that most deceased elderly "were already sick with their eventually fatal conditions three years before death." Those three years are filled with sometimes grueling medical treatment, but they also afford the opportunity—never before so ...

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Jesus' Last Words as Ars Moriendi
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April 2007

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