There is something terribly unsettling about death.
No matter how we look at it, whatever façade we create within ourselves to try to make sense of it all, in the end it is still an enigma. We know we must all die at one time or another but that inevitability does little to help us make sense of it all. Most of us just put it out of our minds and hope that when death comes it arrives quickly without giving us much chance to ponder its implications.
But the thought of it doesn’t go away. It’s why the cosmetics business is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and gyms are filled with crowds of sweating, puffing, people. It’s why we all seem to be on an endless quest to cram as much experience into our time as possible and work feverishly to acquire things as if things were life. Timor mortis conturbat me, the fear of death confounds me, and this has been the lot of humans since the beginning of time.
Into this primal anxiety our Faith speaks words of truth and comfort.
The truth is that our anxiousness in the face of death is real because it reflects something we instinctually know. Death is not normal or natural and feels alien to us despite our feverish attempts to come to terms with it and that feeling is correct. We were not designed to die, we were not created to live mortal lives that end. We inherently know something is wrong with the idea that a being with the capability to ponder eternity lives for such a short time.
Our Faith tells us that this twisted reality is because sin, the human choice to reject the life of God came into the world through deception and the perversion of a primal innocence. Because of it humans are broken from the life of God and have become mortal, subject to the ills of a creation in pain. Death is everywhere and we do not escape it ourselves.
Yet on this Lazarus Saturday a greater truth emerges and in that truth is comfort. God, in mercy, chose not to leave us permanently in this despair. In the Liturgy of St. Basil, which we have been serving these past weeks, it is stated that even though our sins have banished us from that place of primal innocence and taken us from paradise into this present world where death exists God still has, in love, provided us with the salvation of regeneration.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world, God taking on humanity and bearing all of its ills, including death, but never being overcome by any of them. In doing this the ultimate power of death was broken. In union with our Lord we die, but we also rise again by the same power that Jesus exhibited in his own death and resurrection. The resurrection of Lazarus we call to mind today was a foretaste of this, an act of our Lord to demonstrate to those who have the eyes to see that He truly has the power to overcome death and that those who are joined to him share in this.
Knowing this, even though it is our lot to be apprehensive about our mortality and death, we still have hope. Death is an adversary but it’s a foe whose power has been broken. Death is not natural for us, but it is not final either. And in the week to come as we face the sufferings and death of Christ, and by doing so face our own struggles, mortality, and death, this day has been given to us as a preview of the resurrection to come, a ray of hope allowing us to face this ultimate challenge with a calm assurance of salvation.