The angst of death

Deaths tend to bring out a lot in us. Questions of ‘how could that person have died?’ or ‘how is this fair’ or all sorts of angry proclamations…but why are we so shocked at death, when it’s the one guarantee of life?

Deaths bring out so much. The kind of questions we ask around death, to me, show that we do not understand life. Death for Christians was not something that was feared, it was disdained. The Apostles scoffed at it, and that’s why their enemies and those who persecuted them had no power over them, in spite of the amount of them that were killed (11 out of 12 is statistically significant). Saint Paul spoke often about how it would be far preferable for him to die, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain….For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better…” (Philippians 1)

So much did Christians disdain death, that Saint Athanasius, when discussing proofs of the Incarnation and Resurrection of our Lord, spoke about how one proof is how Christians everywhere are not afraid of death! That Christians are voluntarily walking up to be slaughtered, and yet, Christianity was growing.

They did not fear death, because they had knowledge, and their knowledge informed their faith. “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ [appointed] to bring God’s elect to faith and to the knowledge of the truth which leads to godlinessand also to the hope of eternal life, which God (who cannot lie) promised before the age began.” (Titus 1:1)  This knowledge that he preaches brings one to the hope of eternal life – not temporal life.  “Indeed, this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all people to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 2:4) What truth?

God is the Truth! The Truth is that death does not reign over us, because God destroyed it. The Truth is that this life has nothing to do with raiment and drink but is all-to-do with communion with God and the rest of humanity:  learning and living true Love, and then finally entering into that fully and wholly in our own death and resurrection! Why, then, are we afraid? Why then do we ask “howcome he died?” The question has so little meaning! Who is not going to die? Why are we shocked that there is death when it is the only absolute guarantee in life that we will experience at some point? I fear that it is really because of our unbelief and our ignorance.

Look at the barricade scene in Victor Hugo’s, Les Miserables. The scene was not portrayed in the musical production of it. Enjolras and his men are in a barricade and they have full knowledge that they are going to die. There is no doubt about the situation, there is no false hope. There is only certain death. The fifty or so men can escape if they like, but they refuse, because the believe in the Republic. In fact, there’s a ridiculously long speech given trying to convince the men that at least a handful of them must go because the wives and daughters need them, and so that others can take up the cause when the rest have left. The men fight with one another about who should leave, because every one of them wants to stay! That is conviction. Conviction in the very face of death. These people could have thought, “well, in the morning someone else is going to die and I can help build”, instead, they fought with one another that each other should live. Because death had no sway over them, they had power. What they did now had meaning.

What is the point of this? This conviction does not come from ignorance. You could not pull a man off the street unlettered in French politics and say, “Good sir, would you be willing to die in the barricade tonight?” Only if he was fed up with life would he agree to that. Their conviction to the point of death came from the knowledge of France, her history and her vision. It came from an understanding of humanity, of the person, of the desire for freedom and the ability to live without tyranny.

Are you aware that Christianity has these lofty goals already taken care of? Do you have the knowledge of God to understand what eternal life is, such that the eternal life is far more important than this temporal one? DO you know with conviction that Christ conquered death? Do you even know where you came from, the history of your relationship with God and where you life originated from? Do you know for what purpose you were brought into the world, or are you an ordinary citizen walking blindlessly and living off the work of others?

Death is nothing! Death is is to be despised! Death has no hold anymore!!! Are we not listening at all in the Liturgy when we say that Christ “gave Himself up to death which reigned over us”? Do we care at all about Christ here? Or is He an afterthought? If we don’t want communion with Him here then it’s no shock that death is so repulsive to us. Christ is the means and the goal, and in Him is life. Do you believe this? Do you understand that Christianity is about resurrection and the only way to rise is to die? If there’s no belief in resurrection, then as St. Paul says, of all men, we will be most miserable!

If you believe this, then why are we looking at the barricade and crying? Why are we weeping for the deaths instead of weeping at the state of France? Why are we not crying for a new republic and longing for that?

Again, I fear it is because we do not believe on the one hand, and because we only love ourselves, on the other. We are woefully ignorant. If our tears were solely for the loss of a friend whom we cherish, the event would be somber one, not filled with anger. If it was purely because we love someone and will miss them, there would be just sorrow and tears, not anguish and bold proclamations.

Death is but an instant, my friends. It’s an instant, a fleeting moment, in which one goes from here, to there. If one dies in the belief in the Resurrection, then he is raised in hope. If one comes to the knowledge of Truth, he can say with conviction, “Death, where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?” because nothing, not death, not loss, not anything of any kind can separate us from the realness of our calling: Love – full communion with God:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [not death] Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

 

The proclamation of the Church is always: “Khristos anesti, Christ is risen!”