I suppose that for most of us thoughts of our own mortality only arise when we come into close contact with death or illness. The passing of a loved one certainly underlines the fact that not even the fittest of us will stride this earth forever and we may reflect as to what mark we have made on this world during our short duration here. Recently I was engaged in finalising the inscription for my uncle Frank’s headstone, which will mark his final resting place at Kilquane cemetery. Frank was of the opinion that after death we are buried in the ground and that is that, no afterlife, no final judgement by a Divine being, no complications…you live, you die and that is the end
What is left then are the memories enshrined in the people who remain, good and bad. of the deceased. This scenario always struck me as being particularly bleak and what an anticlimax to a life lived well with all its multitude of ideas and actions, dreams and relationships. To envisage such an existence just snuffed out like a candle flame. defies our inner instinct of continuation and immortality. Take a great figure like Beethoven, was his death the full and final stop to such a rich and productive life, did his indomitable spirit simply bow out as his body folded in death ? Something tells me no, there is no sense in it all if we live our three score years and ten and then just shuffle off this mortal coil into a great cosmic void. Finding suitable words for Frank’s headstone had to ensure, to be true to what he believed ,that there would be no suggestion of continuation or a religious reference in the epitaph. At last I decided on a couplet from Michael Hogan’s (the Bard of Thomond) epic poem ‘ The Story of Drunken Thady' where he is addressing the subject of the Bishop’s Lady’s sudden demise. Hogan wrote, “An echo roused upon the hill / Dies in the wind, and all is still.” These lines convey the abruptness of a life interrupted and the unbearable silence of absence afterwards.
In Frank’s case we have lots of warm memories of the man and his life but even these will diminish as memory fades and those left behind themselves bow out. Shakespeare summed up our mortal countdown well when he wrote, “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,/ So do our minutes hasten to their end…” Fine words indeed that convey the sweeping away of our lives by the inevitable march of Time. Jesus also spoke about death and saw it not as the end but a beginning of a different quality of life, eternal life ! He spoke many beautiful words but He uniquely backed them up with a power and an authority that confounded even his critics. Outside the tomb of Lazarus He simply said, “Lazarus come out” and his deceased friend came back from the dead. He described Himself as the Resurrection and the Life and firmly promised His followers that if they
believed in Him they would never die !
There are countless poems and human reflections that may comfort us in times of bereavement and loss but Jesus’ clear and emphatic statements alone offer real and tangible hope of a life that outlasts this one . Above every religious creed and every philosophical argument the simple Nazarene signed, sealed and delivered a new and eternal life through His life, death and resurrection from the dead. Talk is cheap and often cold comfort when we are stricken by the sting of loss and separation, for these times we need the reliable word of One who has been there and lives again to guide us home. Jesus lived a life of service to others driven by love, He hung on the cross for our sins held there by love and He ultimately conquered death and hell by the power of love. His love is true and sure, He does not fail or waver, we can place our fragile life in His and trust Him to do what He has promised - to give us eternal life. The old argument against the assurance of an afterlife, that nobody has come back to tell us, is wrong. Jesu died and did exactly that three days later, the only definitive word we have is His. as the Bible describes it, "He tasted death for us" (Hebrews 2:9)