When someone we know is diagnosed with serious sickness, we are shocked; and so is the sick person, as we all take in the possibility that he might die.
There is something perplexing about this reaction, isn’t there? None of us is getting out of this life alive. And it is foolishness to think that we do not know the time of our death. It is sometime between now and the time when you would be 110 years old. (Who lives past 110?)
So death is inevitable, and we know at least roughly when it will come. The closer you get to 110, the closer it is—though, of course, we also know that you could get hit by a bus today.
Rats!, you might think, this is a truly depressing thought. Why call it to our attention? It is better to be shocked and surprised when it comes.
But listen to the Second Reading. What does it say? When death comes, this is what it brings:
In that new earth, you can be yourself, open, vulnerable, and still totally safe and at ease.
Our Lord himself comes to encourage you to weep over all the hardship of your past life, and then he himself wipes those tears away from your eyes.
And there is not only a new heaven, but also a new earth. What do you expect from earth? Well, earth isn’t disembodied. Earth is earth –dirt, plants, animals, the whole thing that God created when he created earth, as Genesis explains it to us.
Only this time there will be no pain and suffering. So there may be great sea beasts, as Genesis says (Gen.1:21), but they won’t hurt anything; and neither will any of the other animals. If you want to play with lions, what’s to stop you?
In fact, even humans won’t hurt anything, in that great and wonderful time. Now that is a thought hard to take in, isn’t it? But, in that new earth, you can be yourself, open, vulnerable, and still totally safe and at ease, because the people around you won’t hurt anything—not you either.
And all of this is wrapped up in the tender love of the Lord. He himself will welcome you to this new world and to himself by telling you, “Come away, beloved. The winter is past; the flowers appear on the earth!” (Song of Songs 2:10-12)
That joy begins on the other side of death. What is there to fear about this?
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University