I’ve been pondering the gospel readings during this Lent and have been struck by the different way that death is spoken of. For example, in John 11 Jesus says:
Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live:And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever. Believest thou this?
What a paradox! Anyone who believes in Jesus, though dead, shall live, and everyone who lives and believes shall not die forever. What can it mean?
To us as Christians I think it is straightforward: the first death that Jesus speaks of is the death of the body, physical death, where the soul separates from the body. It is the end of our earthly life, yet our soul lives on.
Hence the second part of Jesus’ statement, that if we believe in Him we will “never die” or “not die forever.” Meaning, we will be in Heaven with Him forever. We will still experience bodily death, but not the death of eternal condemnation in Hell.
The Communion of Saints
Jesus gives us another incredible glimpse into spiritual realities in John 8, when he says:
Amen, amen I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever. The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever.
Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? and the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself?….
But I do know him, and do keep his word.Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad.
Again Jesus reiterates that anyone who dies in His friendship, who has kept His word, will not die forever. The Jews don’t understand and keep thinking He is speaking only of bodily death. They keep repeating that Abraham and the prophets “are dead.”
Jesus had responded to this sort of statement when the Sadducees made it (in Luke 20) when He answered:
Now that the dead rise again, Moses also shewed, at the bush, when he called the Lord, The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him.
A direct refutation, showing them that bodily death is not the definitive death, and that those who experienced bodily death are actually alive with God!
How did Abraham see Christ’s day, and with gladness? I don’t know if there is an official interpretation of that passage and have heard several ideas: Abraham saw Christ’s day when He entertained the three angels, when He was going to sacrifice Isaac, when he in the future saw Christ’s crucifixion. Another interpretation would be Abraham, alive with God, “saw” Christ’s day when He became incarnate. The Transfiguration, when Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus, demonstrates that the great saints of the Old Covenant are very much alive and active.
All this shows that bodily death only ends our earthly pilgrimage. We remain alive with God in our souls, awaiting the Resurrection and final judgment. We remain in union with Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church. We remain in communion with one another, with the saints in Heaven, the suffering saints in purgatory, and the saints-in-the-making on earth.