Death marks the moment at when the props of this life disappear and the curtain opens on a completely new stage-setting. What lies ahead of us? What is there beyond death? What is this kingdom where ‘God will be all in all’, and where we shall nevertheless be ourselves with a fullness we have never known? Who are the inhabitants of this universe, and what connections can we establish with them?
These are questions that we all ask, of course, and Revelation does cast some light, even if the answers are somewhat cautious and discreet. Still, every ray of light is a grace to be seizes upon, a reference point for the living.
If life end definitively here below, then the meaning and significance of everything changes. But if the earth is provisional and Heaven is definitive, then life here below is given to us as a trial run, a preparation to be lived to the fill. In nature we find amazing examples of metamorphosis at work.
A caterpillar is a paltry thing with no apparent purpose, until we observe it become a butterfly. Only with difficulty can we believe that the latter comes out the former, and yet it does. If we were familiar only with winter, then the dead, naked trees would be like challenges to nature, and we would have even less understanding for the gardener who cuts them back mercilessly. Only spring, summer and autumn justify winter. Only they give it its full meaning.
Cut off from the perspective of Heaven, human life is rootless and chaotic and we can understand the anguish which Camus expressed in The Myth of Sisyphus: ‘In philosophy there is only one question that is truly serious: is life worth living, or is it not?”.
Only when we draw back and take a wider perspective can we answer this crucial question. Only the Absolute can give meaning and direction to what is relative, however important the latter may be.
Heaven is not an alibi which human beings have invented, or accepted, in order to avoid becoming involved in human progress. Heaven is not an escape, a dream which distracts us from earth.
The vision of eternity confers value on the human condition and makes it poignant. With time I stand to gain, not time, but eternity. We are playing for big stakes.
We are gambling an eternal existence. This lends an extremely deep significance to the human struggle to make the world habitable: it is our testing place. Heaven is a presence which lies all about us, enveloping and holding us in its embrace. To get through life I need to know where this earthly journey is leading, otherwise I am as a grain of sand in the desert, at the mercy of the winds.
We are ready to go out to toil when we know that, at our return home, the welcome will be warm and life-giving. We live in a world iced over by egoism and materialism. We need to find a home where God is the light, the warmth and the source of that human fellowship which has been so painfully misjudged throughout history.
Death remains a mystery on which faith shines gently, as a sanctuary lamp shines in the surrounding darkness. Faith tells us that the dead are not annihilated but are alive with the fullness of life. It tells us that the closed eyes of our dead are not closed forever, but are open from now on to different splendours. The poet had said it better than anyone:
‘Blue or dark, all loved, all lovely,
eyes without number have seen the dawn,
they sleep in their tombs
and the sun still rises…
Blue or dark, all loved, all lovely,
open to some immense dawn,
on the other side of their graves,
the eyes that are closed still see’.
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