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At different times in our life, we all have encountered the frightening face of death. As much as we would like to avoid death and dying, death is an undisputed fact of life. As the poet Emily Dickinson amusingly wrote, “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me.” While we know the fragility of life and the inevitability of death, death is something that human beings have never been able to accept as something that ought to be.
This Holy Week I had a quite unexpected brush with death. Some dear family members from out of town came to visit. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day and the three of us were enjoying an idyllic afternoon at the lake. Two of us were out on the lake in a paddleboat, while the other was watching birds from the shoreline. All of a sudden, we heard a jarring cry from the middle of the lake “Help, help!” A kayaker had flipped over into the icy water and could not swim. We were the only people out on the lake. We immediately started peddling our paddleboat toward him as fast as we could, while the one on shore jumped into a rowboat and headed toward the capsized kayak. In less than ten minutes we reached the young man who managed to pull his numb body into the row boat. In the safety of our boats, we were all deeply grateful that our sunny, fun-loving lake had not become a watery grave.
Our different scrapes with death push us to ponder more deeply the mysteries of life and death. According to our Easter faith, the basis for hope that death is not only bodily disintegration, but also the triumphant integration of life in eternal fullness is the resurrection of Jesus. As John Sachs asserts, “Jesus’ resurrection was not a personal privilege or reward for Jesus but an act of God ‘for us and for our salvation.’... What the Spirit accomplished in Jesus is the work of the Spirit in all of us.”* This is the reason why Paul gleefully asserts: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” with Christ’s death and resurrection and taunts: “Where, O Death, is your sting?” (I Cor 15:55). For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is the source and model of our own resurrection.
Today, let the mysteries of death and resurrection help you to ponder what gives real meaning and purpose to your life. Does your Easter faith free you to take risks for the sake of Christ and his Gospel?
*John R. Sachs, The Christian Vision of Humanity: Basic Christian Anthropology (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 76.
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