Víctor Codina. A little while ago, I read an article by a psychologist in a newspaper who, in the context of the current pandemic, recommended that we should not hide the reality of death from children, by telling them that grandma has gone away or is on a holiday, but rather that we should tell them honestly if she has died. It was advised that a child be told in stages, first of the illness, then of its seriousness, and finally of the death of their grandmother.
Up to here everything is fine, but children who ask questions that even adults don’t dare to ask, will surely continue to ask: but where has grandma gone?
The response will depend on each family. Many times as adults, we have more questions than answers, since we are faced with a mystery: does everything end here? Do we disappear into an infinite space? Are we simply reduced to ashes to be thrown into the sea or kept in an urn? The current pandemic has made these eternal and oft-forgotten questions resurface.
These are the questions which humanity has always wondered about, and to which humanity has offered different yet converging answers throughout history: the belief that everything doesn’t end here, that there is something more, something transcendent, call it what you will. Agnosticism as we know it today is a typically modern western phenomenon.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has also sought to offer a response, a response which is not fully clear until we reach the Gospels: Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), he is risen, he will die no more, he was dead, but now he lives, and holds the keys to the kingdom of death (Revelation 1:18), thus death has been conquered forever. As the Father resurrected Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, so too will we be raised from the dead (Romans 8:11). This is the Paschal mystery.
When artists depict the resurrection, they usually paint a glorified Jesus exiting the tomb, bewildering the guards and appearing before the women. However, in the icons of the Eastern churches, the resurrection of Jesus is depicted as a descent to the place of the dead, from where Jesus emerges victorious, full of light and life, and leading Adam and Eve by the hand, a symbol of all humanity. The resurrection of Jesus is a hope for all, a definitive victory over death. This is what we celebrate each year at Easter, and every week in the Sunday Eucharist, the day of the risen Lord.
This positive hope in the resurrection has, however, many times led to certain sectors of the Church formulating pessimistic expressions about this world, such as: we are dust, this valley of tears, or that we need to flee from this world and save our soul so as to go to Heaven. Such phrases have often been further encouraged by a pastoral discourse focusing on fear of judgement and condemnation.
This has meant that modern enlightened thought has furthered its suspicion that religion is simply childish, in promising a non-existent Heaven and numbing people to reality, because it does not work towards transforming the world.
As a necessary response, since Vatican II, many documents and teachings of the Church have emphasised the image of the merciful God, but also the need for real Christian commitment in history, the defence of vulnerable lives, the struggle for justice, the safeguard of creation, solidarity with the marginalised, bringing those crucified through history down from the cross, etc.
Sometimes however, in recent years, all references to the cross and to the end times of eschatology have become clouded, in other words, references to the ultimate and definitive end of life. It is almost as though we dare not speak of Heaven, which Scripture presents as a banquet of joy and communion.
Even many Christians still speak of the “beyond” in more philosophical terms than Christian ones, as Socrates or Cicero did: in death the soul is freed, we do not die completely, the body dies, but the spirit remains.
For Christians, our hope is not based on philosophy but on our faith in the resurrection of Jesus, in Easter, in the Holy Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead, and in the conviction that all those who believe in Jesus and follow him will also be raised from the dead, as well as those who, although they have not known Jesus, seek the truth through other religions, by following their conscience and loving others.
We are faced with a mystery, but the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for our hope, even in moments of darkness like that which we are experiencing now. As the angels said to the women who were looking for the dead body of Jesus at dawn at the tomb: “He is not here, he is risen” (Matt. 28:5). This faith in the Resurrected Lord should lead us to a commitment to the most vulnerable, to seek a better and different world, since another world is possible and necessary. This Paschal hope can comfort
Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay