“God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome...
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.”
As far as we know, the first written use of the phrase “down to brass tacks” was in a Texas newspaper in 1863. Very quickly, within a few years, it can be found in citations across the country. Although there are a few other theories as to the origin of this phrase, the most compelling research deals with the actual use of brass tacks at the time of the first citations. By the 1860’s, they had become a common form of customization and decoration for coffins, even advertised by hardware dealers to undertakers. Brass tacks were used to provide decoration for the final resting place for the deceased. Perhaps because he was president, Abraham Lincoln’s coffin in 1867 was decorated in part not by brass tacks, but by the more expensive silver tacks. The Ohio Wyandot Pioneer wrote in May of 1868, “...brass tacks are suggestive of stern, inexorable reality...Brass tacks have equalized all human earthly conditions. The peer and peasant, king and common, old and young, wise and otherwise, lie down in a common mortality from which there is no escape.”
To get down to brass tacks, we all die. To focus on the essentials of our situation, we all die. We may fear it, run from it, deny it, push it off, and seek to escape it, but it is true. Sooner or later, our bodies will completely cease to function. I do not think it’s possible to soften this reality, although I would like to. That would cheapen, however, the real grief we experience when a loved one dies. It would minimize our real pain. And our fear. These are real, profound, and natural. We know were not made to die, but to live! We were made imperishable, to live, in God’s own image. We were made for more than death. Each of us feels this deep within, at the core of our being: death is not our destiny. We all die, yes, but like a song within our soul, we know that there must be more. Death can not be the end. It must not be the end!
To get down to brass tacks, our destiny is love. If death is not the end, only love makes it so. Our origin is in the love of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our existence at each moment depends upon this love. Our home is eternal love. Time and space bend toward the eternal. In fact, like two parallel lines drawn in perspective, time and space have a vanishing point called the eschaton, or simply the end. Our lives have a vanishing point, too, called death. So small a point in perspective, we fear insignificance, nothingness, or oblivion alone awaits us. We seem to diminish until there is simply nothing left. Upon closer inspection, however, that vanishing point, the doorway of death, is a cross we each must bear. We fear there is nothing on the other side, but Jesus has shown us the way. The cross leads to resurrection: insignificance to being seen face to face; nothingness to all in all; oblivion to eternal communion. In short, the love of Christ, which conquers all things, destroys even death itself. The eternal expansiveness of love unfurls before us in all its beauty and grandeur. Jesus takes us by the hand and says, “My little child, I say to you, arise!”