by Ken Rolheiser
Lent reveals the reality of love after death

As a lay minister I vividly remember anointing members of our parish on Ash Wednesday and saying, “Remember that you are dust and into dust you shall return”. I was acutely conscious at the time that these dear members of our community will, in time, leave us.

Now I remember with fondness what a privilege it was to share that moment of faith with those who are now God’s Saints. 

In “How Lent reveals the beauty of life” Father Michael Rennier shares some of the mysteries concerning love and death and the crucifixion.

Rennier shares his first Good Friday service experience when he was not yet a Catholic. “The priest brought a crucifix to the bottom step of the sanctuary … The faithful lined up one by one and bent their knees to the ancient stone floor, bowed their heads, and kissed the feet of the dying God.”

The image of death and the nearness of the crucifix brought home the point that this was the God we loved and adored, Rennier said. Death had made our love more real.

“There’s something mysterious in this connection between death and love. It gets to the very heart of who we are as human beings and what it means to have eternal souls united with bodies that grow old and wear out,” Rennier said.

Add to this the sublime mystery of the Risen Jesus on the third day, and the Easter Alleluia’s start ringing in our hearts. “I know my Redeemer lives, and in the end He will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25). And I know that the loved ones I anointed with ashes, in our family and community, do live again!

In the same Lenten reflection Rennier shares a passage from Ursula Guin’s novel The Dispossessed which says, “If you can see a thing whole, it seems that it’s always beautiful … close up, a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance. … The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.” 

Lent can give us that experience of seeing the whole of our lives from the vantage point of death. “Contemplating our mortality is an invaluable exercise because it reveals the whole of our lives – the beginning, the middle, the end,” Rennier says.  

From that vantage point of death we see how beautiful and precious life truly is. “Love is the picture of the whole,” Rennier says. “In life, we love. In death, we love. Whether we live or die, we forever belong to each other.”

Through Lent and Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that still happens to us. Each of us receives the gift of new life and the power to accept it and to live by it. This gift changes everything in this world, including death.

" ‘Death is no more!’ Oh, death is still there, to be sure and we still face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage—a ‘passover,’ a ‘Pascha’—into the Kingdom of God,” says Alexander Schmemann in Great Lent: Journey to Pascha.

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