No media available

Burdens Burdens Burdens



Rev. Stephen Milton
Lawrence Park Community Church
March 10, 2024


During Lent, we are encouraged to consider difficult issues that deal with suffering and sacrifice, topics we often wish to avoid. And in today’s reading, we find Jesus being difficult, causing suffering by kicking people out of the Temple in a rage. It is the only time in the gospels that Jesus gets obviously physically angry, flipping tables and driving people out of the temple. The question is, why is Jesus so upset?

It has to do with how he sees the Temple. In his time, Romans and Greeks had temples everywhere in their cities, and people were constantly making sacrifices to the gods. At home, on the streets, in temples, everywhere. But among the Jews it was different. There was only one place in the whole world where sacrifices could be offered. At the temple in Jerusalem. 

It was huge, the size a very big shopping mall. People came from all over to make sacrifices to God, to atone for their sins. The temple was unique because the Jews believed that God’s spirit dwelled within a special room in the main building of the Temple. In the Holy of Holies. 

Only the chief priest was allowed to enter that room, just once a year, at Yom Kippur.[1] And the room was empty, save for a small stone on the floor.[2] In this emptiness, God’s spirit resided. 

To Christ, drawing close to God is what matters. That’s what makes the temple holy ground. But on this day, he sees a circus. There are people selling animals to religious pilgrims, so it would be loud and smelly in the outer courts. There are stalls set up for changing foreign money into local currency. In our times, this would be like going to see sacred art at a gallery and finding that the gift shop is getting more attention than the exhibit.

So, Christ gets mad. He flips tables. This isn’t what the temple is about. And when he is asked by what authority he does this, He gives a puzzling answer. He says he could tear this temple down in three days and raise it back up. He is referring to his body, which he knows will be crucified and risen. But why does he change the subject from the Temple to his body?

Christ speaks this way because he knows what is coming. The temple will not last. It will be torn down by the Romans. But in the wake of that disaster, which will happen in the year 70, Christianity will adopt a different way of worshipping God. It will not rebuild the temple. Instead, Christians will become the temple where God’s spirit can reside. Our bodies will be seen as temples, the place where an open-heart invites God’s spirit to take up residence. We become the bridge, the meeting place of heaven and Earth. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for God’s heaven to come down and be with us, in us, to help us be fed, be forgiving, to keep from temptation. We are the place where heaven and Earth meet. In this temple of our bodies.  

That idea of the holiness of humans, of our bodies as temples, has been diluted over the years. The modern era has provided a different way of seeing ourselves. We feel like minds which are contained in bodies, like passengers in a car. Our bodies are not seen as holy vessels, like a temple. Instead, they are the machine which gets us around. Our primary identity, our sense of self, is located in our minds. 

And when our bodies need repairs, we take them to the doctor to get fixed. Hospitals have become our modern temples, the place we go for all the major stages of our lives: birth, illness, and death. And if a body can’t be fixed at a hospital, if we are terminally ill, doctors prescribe drugs that can make us comfortable as we wait for death. 

However, recently, hospitals have been given the power to offer more than just painkillers as we die. The Canadian government has made it legal for doctors to medically assist patients to die painlessly. This is called MAiD, medical assistance in Dying.  It was legalized eight years ago [3]. Currently the rules state that a person needs to

  • be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed
  • experience unbearable physical or mental suffering from your illness, disease, disability, or state of decline that cannot be relieved under conditions that you consider acceptable [4]

MAiD is a logical extension of medical ethics. Doctors are asked to fix our bodies, and if they can’t fix what ails us, they should give us comfort. Maid takes that one step further. If death is inevitable, then relief from suffering can be offered by ending the life of the one who is dying.  From a medical perspective, this is completely logical, and compassionate.

However, from a Christian perspective, I think Maid is problematic. Medicine, our modern temple, has lost its way on this issue. In scripture, we are told over and over again that we did not create ourselves. Instead, we are made by God. We are creatures of dust and spirit, a place where God’s spirit can come to dwell. A temple. As such, our bodies are about working with God in sharing God’s love with the world. “I’m Gonna Live so that God can Use me,” in the words of the old hymn. Our lives are not just our own, and never have been. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139 puts it. We are here not just to achieve, have some fun and then die. That’s a modern view of who we are. Scripture tells us that we are cosmic beings, little less than angels (Psalm 139). We were made last by God so we can be a bridge between Earth and heaven. It is a high calling, and it is not just about us. 

Now, that sense that we are here to help others can be a motivation for Maid. People who opt for Maid often say that they want death to come early so they will not be a burden on their families.

That sounds compassionate, and I have no doubt that it is well meaning. But I think it misunderstands what families are about. Families are not just for the good times. We are called to support each other when we become burdens. That’s what families do. Consider childhood. All of us begin life as burdens on our families. Each of us starts out a helpless, loud, messy infant who is a burden 24 hours a day. They keep us up all night. They can’t feed themselves properly, soil themselves all the time, scream and cry at all hours, and can take years to learn how to sleep through the night. Even then, once they get to day care, they bring home germs that get the whole house sick. Children are burdens for years and years. 

Imagine if a three-year-old walked up to her parents and said “Daddy, Mummy, I want to die. I am too much of a burden on you. I want to die so I can stop being a burden.” I suspect that if any of us heard that from a three-year-old we would freak out. We’d reassure the child that we love them, that they are beautiful in our eyes, that it is an honour to care for them. We might also be deeply worried about our child’s mental health. 

We are made to be burdens on each other. For all of human history, families have survived long, drawn out deaths, and those were without painkillers. We have the emotional capacity to deal with this. The human heart breaks, but it also heals. A death ten weeks early is not going to make it any easier for the ones who are left behind. They will still wake up and find the other side of the bed empty. Friends will still start to call and then remember their pal is gone. Leaving a few weeks or months early doesn’t change any of that. 

Medicine has made this too easy. Imagine if the legislation had passed, but that the way doctors ended your life was by smothering you with a pillow. The result is the same, you are dead in a minute or two. But it’s not the same, is it? Using a needle makes this death seem like just another medical procedure. It hides the cosmic aspect of our deaths. Death, with all its mystery and meaning was not invented by medicine. This is God’s department. This gets lost in the convenience of MAiD.  

Maid is the child of modern secular society, with its deep, abiding emphasis on individualism.[5] It claims that we own our lives. But that’s always been a fiction. No one can fully control the impact our lives have on others. When you are lying in that hospital bed, you can’t control how your decline will be interpreted by your friends and family. Like it or not, they will have to struggle with the meaning not just of your mortality, but they will also have to face their own.  Dying is a chance to face hard questions about life. Not just for the person who is dying, but for everyone around them. 

This is one of the reasons we don’t like to talk about these matters, because we all fear death. Mortality scares us because it is humbling. It reminds us we are not in control. Our lives, our careers, our families - they can be interrupted at any time, often with little warning. Our lives can be hijacked, proving we are not really in control. And so, faced by that fear, Maid offers one last chance at control. We can choose our own time of death. It offers an illusion of control that denies all the cosmic truths about who we are. 

Facing the hard truth of our mortality is not easy. It’s not easy on the person who is dying, or on the ones who watch it happen. But it is precisely in that difficulty where the learnings happen. Where the Spirit can get in and do its work. As you die, your family members may make some serious decisions about their own lives. To put more time into what is really important. To give up smoking or drinking if those are problems. To repair relationships with estranged family members. To stop wasting time in a broken marriage. The PSWs and nurses who care for you may be learning lessons about life by caring for you. About the limits of wealth. You have no idea what impact your dying has on them, what they talk about when they go home. Your life has never been entirely your own, and neither is your death. God didn’t create you just for your benefit. God is always thinking of the big picture, of the connections that we can’t see. 

I say all this simply to remind us that the reasoning behind Maid is secular, not faith based. It was not created with Christians in mind. It is efficient and makes sense medically. It relieves suffering because suffering from a doctor’s point of view is pointless. Faith sees suffering differently. Our entire faith is derived from the suffering of a man on a cross. His suffering and death changed the world. 

Today, I am speaking for myself, not the United Church of Canada [6], nor for my fellow ministers. LPCC is built on honouring a diversity of viewpoints. I realize some of us have family members who have already passed using MaiD. Some of you may choose it for yourself. Let me be clear – I will still offer comfort in your dying days and celebrate your life at your funeral here. You have been a wonderful gift to this world, MAiD does not change that. If you invite me to witness your Maid session, I will respectfully decline. The other ministers here at this church may give you a different answer. But as people of faith, if you consider Maid, please think through how you will explain your decision to your Maker should you meet on the other side. For She may ask, “What happened to that temple I gave you? Why did you tear it down? Do you have the power to build it back up?” Something to think about on our Lenten journey to the cross. 






[3] 2016:


[5] David Brooks, “The Outer Limits of Liberalism” The Atlantic, May 4 2023.

[6] The UCC has released a collection of prayers for assistance to the dying and their medical practitioners when administering MAiD. ( The UCC is concerned about expanding its use to include the mentally ill, something the federal government promises to do in the future.