It is often said that death is the least discriminating thing on earth. Death is not impressed by wealth, status, beauty, or age. Every human being who walks the earth has had or will have an experience with it. At some point in our lives, we all suffer the loss of someone who is dear to us, whether it is a family member or a close friend. And in the end, we will have to face death itself as we come to the close of our earthly life.
The proximity of our own death can surprise and shock us. In the movie 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character “Adam” unexpectedly has to face up to the fact of his own mortality. In spite of his youth, he is given the news that he has cancer. His reaction is not uncommon: “ME? That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink… I recycle.” His effort to convince the doctor that his life does not merit a terminal illness falls on deaf ears. The cancer does not evaporate by the simple fact that he is a good guy. The reality of his illness and the fact of his own mortality remain.
It is death’s inescapable finality that causes most of our anxiety and fear when we are forced to confront death. Death is the end. It cannot be reversed, replayed, redone, or much less practiced by us. This ominous reality is quite terrifying. But this is not the entire story, for as it turns out death is not the end. We are not obliterated or annihilated by death. There is no person, thing, power, or force that can take us completely out of existence. The survival of our immortal soul after death allows us a sliver of hope to resist the fear of death.
This hope is brought to its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Being truly human, he suffered the very same death that each of us face. This is the solidarity that he shares with the entire human race. But it is not solidarity for solidarity’s sake. Christ shares our mortality for the sake of our redemption, the mission and goal of his dwelling among us on earth. As true God and true man, Jesus Christ does something completely out of our reach: He reverses death. His resurrection from the tomb on the third day is the definitive confirmation that death does not have the last say. Through His death He has given us a share in His eternal life.
Life does not cease after death, but rather in union with Christ, life is brought to its fulfillment. Christ offers us the very thing for which we were created: everlasting life with Him. Death, that common enemy of all mankind, may seem to be the most powerful thing in our lives, but the power of death pales in comparison to the power of the God who grants us eternal life. God created us for this life, the eternal union with Him in love. When Christ became incarnate, His mission was none other than to break the chains of death with His love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Although we still experience its pain, death has been transformed for us in Christ. Through his passion, death, and resurrection, Christ has given us a reason to face death with courage and hope: “The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Tim 2:11). To us who live in Christ “to die is gain,” for in departing this mortal life we will finally behold Him who awaits us on the other side: Love Himself.
Image: Annibale Carracci, Holy Women at Christs Tomb