James Baldwin calls death "our inescapable fact."
It is in the midst of this that I think the modern world has failed...and that monumentally. We seek to push death to the side, as death -- and the human necessities of caring for the dying and honoring the dead -- is not economically efficient (at the same time, however, death is particularly efficient as it clears out those who have become "obsolete," an insight brought to us with particular tragic clarity by Steve Jobs). Death shows up our industrial and informational economy for what it is: a mask that, as Paschal said, we place before our faces to stop us seeing the Abyss we are running into.
A good friend and teacher died this week. In the midst of grading and term endings, of preparing for Christmas, it is hard to find time to mourn. But, at the same time, in the face of one of the most solemn moments in a human's history, how can grading and shopping be important? No, there is a necessity to attend to the dead one, not as a "memory" but as an Image-Bearer, a proto-Icon, who now awaits resurrection with her Lord. Her death, actualized in her physical body this week, was accomplished on the Cross and participated in with her baptism. Her union with Christ, far from making her body a "shell" or some such, makes it a holy object: something that tangibly will rise on the Last Day, fully sharing in the Glory, the Eternal Life, of God Himself. Her death becomes a testament, not to death's power, but to its futility: Death, thou shalt die.
In the meantime, though, we see the power of death, futile though it ultimately may be, to drive us to despair. I was playing with my youngest daughter moments before I learned of my friend's death. As we sat there, building blocks, I saw her as she truly is: an instantiation of love from my wife and I. She is the outpouring of shared love. I'm speaking ontologically, she is the natural hypostatization of our marital love. This goes beyond symbolic gestures to something iconic: to truly see her is to see the Image of God, who with His Father and Spirit, is love. Here is why death is such a terror. Love shares His nature with us: eternal and at peace. Death breaks asunder that bond and consigns love to the void. It is the most unnatural of things, for it seeks to break apart that which is our very nature. If Death can do that, what hope have we?
"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life."
Hallelujah. Here is the love as strong as death, as jealous as the grave. No, in fact we must go beyond the Song and say here is the love stronger than death, more jealous than the grave, the One who will conquer Death and Hades for us and with us.
My dear friend, Martha, rest in peace until the Day of Resurrection.