Sunday, December 30, 2007

The mystery of death

In Jesus, God achieved the perfect synthesis of divine and human. God gave humanity the vision of the whole and assured us that we could be at home within that vision. The incarnation of Jesus demonstrates that God meets us where we are. It assures us that we do not have to leave the world or relinquish our humanity in order to know God, but simply that we must turn from evil. In the birth of the God-man, we have been "consecrated in truth," so we are sent into the world to continue the saving pattern of embodiment.

We tend to fear incarnation precisely because it makes religion so real, so particular, so worldly. We prefer to keep religion on the level of word, yet the Jesus-pattern is word-becoming-flesh. The great lie is that redemption can happen apart from incarnation. Annie Dillard called it "the scandal of particularity." For the Christian, power is always hidden in powerlessness, just as God was hidden in a poor baby.

We may want the spiritual without the fleshly; we may want the cosmic without the concrete. But if the Word is ever to be loved and shared, we must risk embodiment, which is always concrete and ordinary. There God is both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed.

Richard Rohr, from New Covenant, "The Incarnation"

Going back for a moment to yesterday's post, the scandal of the Incarnation is just precisely that God didn't remain safely in his Heaven, allowing us humans just to get on with making comfortable our lives in the world. He had to come down here and interfere, and turn upside down all our ideas of power, influence and security. It was through death that Jesus triumphed over death, and it is death that saves us from the corruption of being too comfortable. The fact that these bodies of ours will sooner or later die is somehow part of the Incarnation, and Jesus' death - and resurrection - takes that mortality into eternal life, and makes it mystery, wonder and redemption.

St. Francis wrote:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your will!
The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
And serve him with great humility.

Death in Christ is mercy, and the way to glory, never a thing to be feared. We cannot help grieving over those we have "loved, and lost a while" but we must not grieve for them. Our own death will come, that is certain, but Sister Death is a welcome visitor for those who belong to Christ. The dying itself may be harsh, or gentle, and I'm sure it's right to pray for the latter; but I pray that I will never fear to die, or try to run from Sister's kind embrace when she comes.

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