I am embarrassed to admit it, but I took 4 years of Latin in High School in an attempt to get out of Home Economics. I just did not want to make those culottes! But I am proficient enough to translate the dead language phrase: “memento mori.” It means “remember your mortality,” or “remember you must die.”
I understand that in ancient Rome, as the conquering heroic Roman General would parade down the streets in triumph, a servant or slave was stationed right behind him. And as the crowds would go wild with adulations, the slave would whisper, “memento mori”- remember your mortality.
In essence that slave was making sure the conquering hero remembered that his feet were made of clay. Regardless of his accomplishments, he too would die someday. The phrase was meant to add perspective.
In the middle ages, a whole genre of art grew out of this phrase. Some have called it “funeral art.” Both in paintings and sculpture that concept featured death with the likes of skulls and tombs. The art form was trying to keep death in the forefront of everyone’s consciousness.
While it is true that the Christian should indeed keep the life to come in the forefront of his or her mind (Heb. 9:27), I am not sure that staring at skulls is the right way to do so.
Instead, I am suggesting that this week we all think about the practical implication of that Latin phrase. Remembering that we are mortal ought to help us remain humble.
The scripture reminds us that God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud. Our example is the Lord Himself. The one and only place where Jesus does a self-description is in Matt. 11, and he describes Himself as “gentle and humble.”
Humility is not “wimpyness.” It does not require groveling. It does not mean you cannot speak forthrightly. It just means that we need to guard our attitudes. We must put others first (Phil. 2:3).
That phrase “memento mori” serves as a reminder that we are not the center of the universe. God is. And by His grace we have been given gifts and opportunities. But we are the creature. He is the creator. He is in control.
I won’t be walking down the streets of my home town in glorious splendor this week and likely neither will you! But it sure wouldn’t hurt to have a faithful friend walking along side reminding us of our mortality. The message should be: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
By His Grace and for His Glory,
Sherry L. Worel