The Promise of Death
In his last post, Lance pointed out that our culture exists within a paradox of constant denial of death and simultaneous embrace of death. We consume death and we look away from it, assuring ourselves that as we pile up our kingdom on the bones of the dead we will never die. As I said in my post last year, “The tension of death’s simultaneous presence and absence places us in a psychologically untenable place. We know we are dying, we know others die, yet we are unequipped to face it—we lack even the language.” As Lance says, Ash Wednesday speaks into this paradox, it “reveals an authentic death” and this death leads us through to life.
This means, of course, that Ash Wednesday’s declaration of death is not simply to our culture, it speaks to the Christian, taming temporal triumphalism and situating our lives here within the promise of life to come. To the Christian tempted to think that our place as children of God means temporal fortune and favour, Ash Wednesday says “you too will die.” Indeed, the death Ash Wednesday speaks to tells us that not just death, but suffering, is a given. After all, even our God, joined to the “dust” of flesh in the person of Jesus Christ suffered and returned, if only for a time, to the dust.
As Lance says, “Gospel always has the last word.” Gospel promises life, but it promises that life in the glory of a resurrection that surpasses our current horizons, for even those horizons are bound for death. It is only the promise beyond our horizons that hope enters the world. The gospel first promises that not this age, but the Kingdom of Heaven is ultimate, a kingdom which shall come in full. Through death, we go to rest with God and await that time. Yet, the very nature of that promise means that it also breaks into the here and now. Just as Christ entered into history and suffered for the redemption of the world, so our suffering and death is bound up into God’s good work in the world. Just as the dust of Ash Wednesday points our culture beyond death to life, so too does it remind Christians of the ultimate orientation of our suffering and death, “ultimately woven into a larger motif: life.” Thus, even death and suffering take on a new life as they are bound to the suffering and death of Christ–death and suffering that redeems and ultimately restores the world. God’s promise to us is that we are dust, but that if we turn to him, our death and suffering will not simply be undone but caught up into God’s salvation of the whole world. It is life, ultimately, towards which all things are moving, and that life is breaking into the world even in our own ashen existence.
Latest posts by Kevin G. (see all)
- All the Company of Heaven: Praying to the Saints - October 31, 2016
- C.S. Lewis, Roman Catholicism, and Bad Apologetics - August 1, 2016
- Sabbath and the End of Work - May 24, 2016