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Death in a Christian perspective

October 22, 2015
Brother John M. Samaha, SM

When someone departs from this life we say that person has died. What do we mean? St. Paul says the person fell asleep in the Lord. Others say those persons passed on. Other biblical allusions say they are in peace; he takes them to himself; they shall also live with God; death no longer has power over them; it is the will of my Father that they have eternal life.

We say that a deceased person has died. What do we mean? We recall that Jesus died and was in the tomb for three days before his resurrection. But during those three days he was contacting Adam and Eve and the other departed who were awaiting their entrance into paradise, and reassuring them that the time had finally come. Jesus was not dead. His body had died and was lifeless in a tomb until it was reunited again to his spirit, made alive again in a resurrection.

When we gaze into an open casket at a wake or funeral we see a lifeless body of one who has passed into another totally different sphere of being, which St. Paul describes for us in these words: Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it so much as entered into our minds the manner of things that God has prepared for us. The deceased is now more fully alive than when with us in this limited world, which is a world limited by time and space, size and shape, weight and gravity. Only when these bonds and impediments are broken do we truly live. The deceased is not totally separated from us. In the creed we state that we believe in the communion of saints – not canonized saints but all believers – those in this world and those in the other who form one body in Christ.

Humans have great difficulty finding suitable words to express the realities of this world in which we live because everything is mystery. Even more do we lack adequate language for that other world for which we were made, for which this one is but a preparation.

At a funeral we gather to praise God for calling the deceased to a closer union with his creator and redeemer, to a fuller and unending life, to a joy and satisfaction beyond our ability to conceive.

We say someone has died, but that is not what we mean. Earthly death is not the extinction of being; it is not going out of existence; it is not returning to the nothing from which we came. It is the separation of the material that we are from the spiritual that we also are. The deceased will be given a marvelously better body described in the creed as the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. The deceased still lives, but in a wondrously different way. The preface of the funeral liturgy reminds us that “life is changed, not ended.”

Death is a birthday into a new form of being, to the fullness of life. That is what we commemorate and celebrate at a funeral.

Marianist Brother Samaha lives in Cupertino.

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