Prepare your heart for your departure. If you are wise, you will expect it every hour. Every day say to yourself: “See the messenger who comes to fetch me is already at the door. Why am I sitting idle? I must depart for ever. I cannot come back again” Go to sleep with these thoughts every night, and reflect on them throughout the day. And when the time for departure comes, go joyfully to meet it, saying: “come in peace. I knew you would come, and I have not neglected anything that could help me on the journey. [St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 65]
St Paul tells us that he died daily. In East Coker, Eliot reminds us ‘The time of death is every moment. We think of death as the opposite of life, but in truth, as the Prayer Book has it, ‘in the midst of life we are in death’. Our earthly life is but a prelude, we hold in faith, to life that is to come.
In this life we lose those we love, and they lose us; even the happiest of marriages ends in a bereavement. Often, we are rejected by others, and we are dead to them, and they to us. But unless we die, this alone we know, we cannot rise to life in Jesus.
The Lord of Creation trod that path before us. He died horribly, descended into hell and rose again on the third day; that is the pattern – the dying in Him and the rising in Him. The Liturgy of St Basil calls Christ’s dying a ‘life-creating death’. The Paschal homily of St John Chrysostom, read on the midnight service of Pascha tell us all:
Let none fear death;
for death of the Saviour has set us free.
He has destroyed death by undergoing death.
He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.
He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he cried:
Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;
filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;
filled with bitterness, for it was mocked;
filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;
filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains.
Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven.
O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Death is but the summons from Christ to come share in His resurrection. We leave the living, who will be dead, to join the dead who are living in Christ. That is all.