What is it Like to be Dead?
7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

John chapter 10 verse 11 and chapter 17 verses 1

From the moment of conception, death is a certainty. It is not like heart failure, fatal accident or cancer, which happen only to "some" people. Death, from whatever cause, happens to us all. What is death? What does it mean to die? There should be no great mystery here. we witness and even administer death every day. We watch flowers and trees and animals live and die; die from disease, exposure and old age. We uproot and harvest in order to support our own lives.

It seems, does it not, that life and death are much more than just opposite ends of a time frame. They are constantly interacting. They are essentially inseparable. Not one of us living, is not also dying and dependent upon the life and death of other created species in order to, at once, support life and draw us closer to the inevitable.

What then is it like to be dead? All major bodily functions close down and the body rapidly begins to decay until all that remains is a skeleton. The question arises, what dies, the body or the person? If you maintain that there is nothing more to us than that which is subject to decay, the question is easy to answer. The body and the person are, according to this theory, one and the same and so in death you would simply cease to exist, other than as a memory and in the genes of your progeny. But if you believe that we have a spiritual aspect which, by definition, is not subject to decay, then, there must be some kind of spiritual existence or life after death.

Though both science and Divine Revelation can be called upon to demonstrate the probability of some form of after-life, the combined arguments are not sufficiently conclusive to satisfy everyone. We must, therefore, accept the fact that some people will never be convinced. But that should not stop the rest of us from continuing our search for truth.

There is something very special about human life. We are not entirely products of an evolutionary process. Any dispassionate observer of life on this planet would have to say that we humans are truly unique. Capable, as we are, of contemplating our own deaths, we are also possessed of "hope." It appears that there is not a single segment of mankind, past or present, which has not or does not entertain some notion of an after-life.

Is this hope a form of universal deception or does its very ubiquity indicate, even to the scientifically orientated analyst, a conclusion demanded by right reason? As I see it, either such a universal hunger must be rooted in the overall scheme of things or Nature is fundamentally evil. Some cite the horror of natural disasters as evidence of the latter, but remember that the word "disaster" implies a deviation from the norm. In other words, if we look at Nature in its entirety, disasters are an exception to the rule. Nature is constantly moving; volcanoes erupt, earthquakes frequently take place. There is always ‘bad weather’ some place. The fact that people are occasionally, not to mention tragically, in its path doesn’t mean that Nature is, in and of itself, evil. It is, however, powerful beyond imagination, in a state of flux and worthy of respect. Fire, Air and Water... where would we be without them?

Long ago, people of wisdom came to the conclusion that if we gave credence only to that for which we had indisputable proof, our lives would be empty and fruitless. We would never believe in a future sunrise, we would never believe that we are loved, we would never accept the word of another or the promised quality of their skills, we would never eat or drink lest we suffer some harm. In short, love and trust would be foreign concepts.

We sometimes like to think otherwise but the fact is that we live according to faith. We accept the word and work of others or we perish. Some people are, of course, more credible than others and the more credible the person, the more reasonable our faith in that person. It is our well-supported tradition that no one in history has even approached the credibility attributable to Jesus Christ. And so when He speaks to us of matters outside and indeed beyond, the realm of science, we need not apologize to anyone for believing.

Jesus tells us that our sense of the eternal is not erroneous. "My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life, so that to all eternity they can never be lost; no one can tear them away from my hand." These are Jesus’ words as preserved and passed on to us by the living community of which He remains the head and we the members. (John Ch.10 Verse 11ff)

In Ch. 17 of the same Gospel we read, "Father, the time has come; give glory now to thy Son, that thy Son may give glory to thee. Thou hast put Him in authority over all mankind, to bring eternal life to all those thou hast entrusted to Him. Eternal life is knowing Thee, who art the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (As you can see, I am not a fan of most of the recent translations..I tend to drift back to Msgr. Ronald Knox !)

Jesus not only tells us that there is an eternal life to be lived during and after this temporal one, He tells us that when all is said and done, it is synonymous with "knowing" God... Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now in Biblical language, knowledge is not merely the conclusion of an intellectual process but the fruit of an experience involving personal contact. Ideally, when it matures, it is love.

Clearly, eternal life does not begin with death. It is defined in terms of one’s intimacy with God, so that long before we die, we are invited to participate in that life, the fullness of which is preceded by a punctuation mark called death.
So, what is it like to be dead? Much depends upon the level of intimacy achieved with The Father, Son and Holy Spirit during our lives. It can range from an undreamed of "high" to the hell of being a stranger in paradise. But as long as there is life in our bodies it is never too late to respond to the Divine invitation... "Come, follow me... "

Dear Reader: I suggest that you conclude this reflection by reading my earlier submission entitled DO NOT MOURN

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