Is death the end?

Today’s post is Edmund’s reflection after the Gospel at the Masses of Sunday 6th November

November is the month of the Holy Souls, during which we remember, pray, and offer the Holy Mass for all the Faithful Departed. We bless graves as we will do this Sunday with Holy Water as a sign of hope. For burial places have been sites of pilgrimage for thousands of years, in every culture, in every corner of the world. The graves of our loved ones seem to us to be ‘holy ground’ a place where we can go to touch them, a marker that witnesses to the fact that they were once here with us, and a sign to others of how much we loved them, and that they are not forgotten in death.

If you were to travel to Sri Lanka, you would see enclosed in a shrine, the final resting place of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha. He is revered by some as a great teacher of the path to enlightenment, but he too died and despite his followers acclaiming his spiritual teaching he could not overcome death, nor avoid the grave.

You might travel to Medina, a city in Saudi Arabia, where you would be able to visit, as millions of faithful Muslims do each year, the tomb and remains of Mohammed. He lived, only to die, and his bones remain sealed in that tomb, silent and unmoved. He gave the Muslims the Qu’ran and a religion, but great and final prophet they claim him to be, there he lies in his tomb.

But let us travel instead in our imagination to Jerusalem, where twenty centuries ago the grey and life-less body of a thirty three year old man was wrapped in a shroud and sealed in a tomb newly hewn from the rock. Placed in that grave many would have been forgiven for imagining this was the end, for he was a man like us, and surely death was the final act in the drama of his life. Yet faithful to the one who had died, the women who followed him and served him so faithfully came early one Sunday morning to visit his tomb. And coming to the tomb they are told that ‘He is not here – he has risen!’. This truly is a grave like no other. For this grave is empty.

This tomb, empty and bare, stands as a silent witness to the truth of Christ’s victory over death. And whilst we could visit the graves of many religious leaders or founders of religions those who were buried in those tombs are still there. But go to Jerusalem, go to the tomb of Christ, and you will not find him there, for he is risen – the tomb is empty.

By dying Christ gained the forgiveness of our sins, but it was by rising that he destroyed the power of death therefore our graves too will one day be empty. That is the Faith of the Church and it is the reason why St. Paul can write to the Thessalonians with such confidence,

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people (that is the pagans) who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus…

And yet, while we are taught not to fear the grave, we are taught to be vigilant, to live conscious that the hour of our death may be this very hour, to

stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.

To keep death before us is not to be morbid or miserable, rather the reality of our death puts our life into context, and forces us to ask ourselves, what is truly important? What has true value? And knowing that at death we leave behind us all we have ever worked for, all we have ever earned, all we have ever owned, all we have ever saved, all our property, and return to Him who made us, should not our deepest desire be for God alone? After all we surely desire to go to Heaven when we die,but what is Heaven? It is not an abstract concept or a kind of never-never-land of treats and pleasures, Heaven is being with the Lord Himself face-to-face, forever.

It is traditional to pray to St. Joseph for what the Church calls a ‘happy death’. A ‘happy death’ is not as contradictory as it sounds; essentially it means dying in friendship with God strengthened by the Sacraments of the Church, above all the Holy Eucharist. St. Joseph, tradition tells us, experienced a truly happy death, for he had at that moment, not only his spouse the Blessed Virgin Mary with him, but also the Lord Himself.

 

To claim for ourselves that ‘happy death’ we must live today in company with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; that is to love God, love our Lady, and to strive to be holy, after the example of St. Joseph and all the saints. To stay awake does not mean to be terrified of our approaching death, but is a reminder to us that death is the inevitable and unavoidable means of passing from this life to God. And because we do not know the day or the hour, the Lord calls us to watch that we are in friendship with Him always so that whether die today, tomorrow, or some distant hour in the future, if we die in friendship with God death becomes the gate through which we walk and return to God.

If our death were to come now, am I in friendship with God? And if I were to die now, what would I wish I had put right, said, done? For it is at death that all the choices we have made in life take a final and permanent effect and shape our eternity. God has given us the gift of life, and invites us to receive the Sacraments to sustain us in that life, and to keep us in friendship with Him.

Come back to the Lord, become friends with him again, remain friends with him by frequent Confession and receiving the Lord Himself in Holy Communion, and if you do so whatever the hour, whatever the day of our death, we will go to Him who made us and be with Him forever.

 

 

 

 

About Sarah Doyle - let them be small
Mum to Daniel and Emma, born 2014 and 2012. Lover of crafting, reading and hot baths, although I rarely seem to find time to do these things!

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