Fr. Laurence’s Lenten Reflections (Good Friday)
'Call no one happy until he is dead', said the poet Aeschylus. One can see his point, even though it sounds a little depressing. Death marks an absolute boundary line beyond which the shifting fortunes of life, the unexpected sufferings, setbacks and the disappointments at not achieving one’s goals cannot cross. It is true we cannot see what does lie on the other side but it must be very different from life on this side.
This is a minimalist interpretation of death.
In the unexpected sense of relief and liberation that is often felt at the moment of death there is a deeper and more human and vitalizing truth. The last outgoing breath of the body seems to lead to a deep and exhilarating inspiration of a different and purer kind of air. It makes death, which otherwise might seem to invalidate all the values of life, into a source of meaning and hope that there is no ordinary way of explaining.
The way we die says a lot about the kind of person we chose to be through the way we lived. In the Cross we witness an absolute absence of denial, an acceptance of reality – the experience of God as the ground of being – that actually transforms reality for those, like us, who stand at the foot of this tree of life, this tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We eat of its fruit by allowing our dying – so full of resistance and denial – to be lifted up into its orbit, as a smaller boat is pulled forward by the wake of an ocean liner. This death evaporates the fear of death until it becomes no more than the spray of a large wave.
The torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death, as Aeschylus called it, cannot be denied but it is curable. Jesus leaves us standing at the foot of a dead tree, like mourners slumped on a death-bed. But the intimacy of friendship he gave us is stronger than this. The silence whispers that he has dived deep out of sight to confront the dark gods of our race. The long, deep breath of the Spirit he took for that dive will bring him to the surface again.