The wisdom of the ancient pagans saw that all natural death fed new life in one way or another. Just as an octipus mother gives every last bit of herself and dies to give life to her offspring, so in all sorts of natural life, animal and vegetable it’s death makes life. This is what the pagans called the circle of life, and in many ways we still recognise that today.
Our first parents brought a different kind of death into the world, a death that was not good, not part of the way we were created. Just as sin is an lack of good, so death in the way it was brought into the world by sin, is a lack of Life.
If you spend any time with Scripture you will see that God is not all that concerned with people dying physically, but He has a lot to say about avoiding “dying the death” (Gen 2:17) – that is, the death of the soul. Killing the life of the soul prevents a person from entering Heaven.
The whole question and solution for death, comes to completion in Holy Week. On the Seventh day (the Sabbath) Jesus does not rest, he has finally arrived in Bethany at the house of His friend Lazarus who has been dead and entombed for four days.
To the joy of many and the horror of all those who have chosen death over Life, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb and restored him to life. The story of Lazarus, after he has been brought out of the tomb, is one of suffering. He had to flee the country to hide from those who, having put Jesus to death wanted to put Lazarus back in the tomb also. There is some confusion over where he died but he is thought to have been a Bishop in Cyprus and France at some point. There is a tomb in Cyprus that is thought to have been his (second one).
Christ raised Lazarus on the Seventh Day. Josephus tells us that Lazarus had been a High Priest, and that many of those who had come to Bethany to mourn him were his fellow priests of the Temple. Having a proper tomb with stone was indicative of a high status life. Jesus therefore calls a High Priest out of the tomb. Jesus, The High Priest and Second Adam is to break the chains of dying the death in a few days time; the chains forged by the sin of the first high priest, Adam.
In this moment before His enemies Christ lays out the choice. “I have laid before you life and death,” says the Lord, “Choose Life therefore…” (Duet 30:19).
But they do not. They are angry and afraid as Lazarus walks from the tomb and they double their efforts to ensure Jesus will die.
So what of death now? One thing is certain from the moment of conception, we will die. Many die before being born, or are born already dead. We all have to watch others face death, or have faced it ourselves and almost touched it. But that death is only the bodily death that will lead in the end to a resurrected body, just as Christ showed us. We know that all those who have died in grace, are alive with Christ in Heaven. Even those who have to burn off the straw in the purging fire, are alive and will enter the full life of heaven. The dead go to the place of death, that is hell, “where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.” The soon to be Blessed John Paul the Great correctly named our culture, The Culture of Death. We want as many people as possible to avoid life, and kill it off; too young to live, to old to live, too sick to live, too much of a “burden” on the self-seeking lives of others to live; life unworthy of life. Even children’s fashions celebrate death- and seem impossible to avoid.
So Christ died that we might live. He broke death and opened Life – the gates of Heaven to us. But He forces no one through those gates. He still puts life and death before us and gives us a choice. “Take up your cross,” He commands us, “And follow Me.” So He has made the cross and the suffering that must come with it, into the Tree of Life for all of us – if we take it up. Those who try to bypass their cross will find the gates barred to them. Those who abandon others to carry their cross alone will suffer loss.
There is a conversation between Lucia and Our Lady, where the girl asks, on behalf of a woman who is suffering and dying, whether she could die soon. Our Lady answers that the woman must not be in a rush to die, for, “I know exactly when I must come for her.” Our time is not God’s time. We must allow Him to decide when we die. Our Lady in perfect obedience to her Son will not come for us until He says so.
Many of the saints have longed for death, because they have seen how wonderful Heaven is. They do not long for death the way someone who wishes to run from suffering might long for release, they long for it as someone who longs to run home after being away.
If we have carried our cross and helped others carry theirs, we will find death is merely the doorway to new life. If we have refused to do either we will find there is no key to new life and death is all there is.