We have many fears in life, but nothing tops our fear of death. After all, isn’t death the “ultimate” worse thing that can (and will) happen to us? Throughout our lives we are shown just how uncomfortable we are with good byes – be it the end of a series on Netflix, a lunch with a close friend, a trip, a party, a job, or a relationship. We want good things to last, and nothing is harder than saying good bye when we don’t feel ready. I think that’s what Lent is all about – to ready us for our final good bye. Christ wants to set us free from all of our fears, so why not trample them all by overcoming our biggest one?
“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” Nothing is guaranteed in life, except for death. Of course, we can spend our lives distracting ourselves with unsatisfactory pleasures stamped with expiration dates. But, when we take our last breath, soul and body separated, all the distractions that malnourished our senses will prove inedible on our death bed, and, until the time of the Resurrection, we will no longer be able to see, hear, smell, taste, and or touch. Mortal life is a preparation for death and death is a birth into eternal life. Our mortal body, no matter if it’s borrowed just for 1 day or for 99 years, has an important role to play in our salvation. Neither extreme self-denial or self-indulgence of our senses, but a balance of discipline and enjoyment will give us the desired result (Read Ecclesiastes 3).
On a Tuesday, I kissed my grandmother’s warm cheek. I held her hands. She kissed my baby. I told her I loved her. I thanked her. The following Saturday, we buried her ashes. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to say good bye. She had no unfinished business. Like Christ, she could say in the end, “it is finished”. She was content and at peace; laughter employed her last breaths. I thank God for the gift of witnessing her beautiful departure into eternal bliss. She was prepared. She used her body meaningfully to the end. And, because of my hope in the resurrection, my good bye to her was really only a “see you later.”
After the shop is closed and the immortal soul shreds off the mortal body, will we still have unfinished business? Or will we be able to close the book of our life in peace? We don’t know if tomorrow will come; today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to make amends, repent, seek forgiveness, and pay back our debts. The moment will come when we will take our last breath and our body will begin to disintegrate. Now is the time to put our body to work.
It is true that everything and everyone we hold on to in this life will eventually seep through our fingers like sand. Yet, somehow we still believe – despite our repeated unsuccessful attempts to quench our thirst with money, acceptance, titles or pleasure – that somewhere sometime something or someone must exist out there that will satisfy us so well that we’ll stop searching elsewhere. Does this thing exist? Does this person exists? And if the answer is yes, what role does this mortal body that will one day turn into dust have in this quest for absolute satisfaction and contentment?
God intended for us to put our body to work before it turns into dust. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) meant to be offered up as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). What we do with our body can become an act of worship when we invite grace (the divine presence) to see with our eyes, hear with our ears, taste with our mouths, touch with our hands, walk with our feet, and commune and create with our generative organs. One day our mortal bodies will be put to rest, and this should encourage us to persevere until our duty to God and mankind is finished. Only then will we be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
The Scripture describes the path towards salvation as a race. It’s not easy. The path is straight and narrow, and we must stay focused and well nourished. All the prescriptions the Church gives us during Lent are meant meant to strengthen the body. In this fight, Christ nourishes us with His own body and blood, and we must not turn our gaze away from the Savior, lest, like St. Peter, we fall into the water. This Holy Week, Christ bids us to stay awake and keep vigil, although the spirit is willing, the body is weak (Matthew 26:31). When we think we have won the race before crossing the finish line – that we have overcome our addictions, our vanity, our pride, our sensuality – it is then that we are the most susceptible to falling behind and losing all that we gained. No matter how we’ve been living out our Lent, this Holy Week we can make an effort to finish the race. Let us carry our cross, allow our hearts to be pierced, lay in our tomb, and rise to new life. Then, on Pascha, we will be able to sing: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”