There isn’t a day of the year that the obituary page of our newspapers is omitted. Every day people die. Yet, many of us begin thinking about death only as the signs of death, our own or others’, become imminent. We label earlier thoughts about death as premature, morbid, depressing. After all, people are living longer and longer. I can put off these thoughts for now.
A summertime reflection on death, in the midst of the lush and varied growth of field, vine, trees and children is good for the soul. I mean reflection on death’s place in the whole of a human life, not its complicated medical aspects. Death is a moment of completion, a cherished moment in which we can say “I did my best ”- in which we can say, with Jesus in John’s gospel “It is finished.” (John 19.30) The Greek word for this cry of Jesus on the cross is tetekestai, which is not a cry of defeat, but rather the shout of the victor when (s)he achieves the goal.
Death is not evil. It is not failure. It does not mean that the dying person has done something wrong to incur the punishment of God. Death is a common experience for every human being. As we approach death, what matters most is how we have lived. Throughout our life, what response to the many deaths that come our way do we exhibit, cultivate, pray over? We experience the death of a dream, of one particular moment in one’s life, the death of a relationship, the death of playfulness or the death of an idea.
True, the death of a loved one or our own impending death saddens us. After all, we love life as we experience it and we love many people who die before we do. We say death is unfair. The news of it crushes us, angers us, makes guilt arise in us and sometimes, if we are honest, relieves us. Death will come in its own good time. Some current conversations in society promote hastening death or prolonging life even if it has no retrievable human qualities. Sometimes we find no words to express what we think of death. Like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, all we can do is weep.
Let’s put aside the legal and medical issues that at another critical point in life can’t be put aside. Let’s linger over the meaning of death as the threshold into the unknown, a journey toward a new horizon. Consider again Jesus as he heard about and then experienced the death of his beloved Lazarus (John 11.1 – 44. )”this illness is not to end in death,” Jesus said. (John 11.4) Death, as in the case of Lazarus, may be immediate result of illness, bit it is not the ultimate result. There is more.
So ask “What is the fate of those who seek a life-long relationship with Jesus?”
Life. Not life without sadness or pain, but life in all its fullness, today and tomorrow and forever.
All of this is worth thinking about here and now.
~Sister Joan Sobala