As most people know, this is the shortest verse in the Bible. It also happens to be one of the most profound, though I’m not sure as many know that. I have already made mention of it in my last post, but I think it deserves a little more attention. Upon hearing of my Grandmother’s death I laid The Ancestral Sin aside and went on quite intentionally to the next book on my reading list which is Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s O Death, where is thy sting?
This little book is actually a series of transcripts of radio broadcasts delivered to Russia by Fr. Schmemann via Radio Liberty. In them, he proclaims that the historic Christian understanding of death is virtually unheard today. Instead we primarily hear two “classic” approaches to understanding death, both of which in one way or another accept death. One of course is the materialist position that denies any existence beyond the grave, and the other more religious (note I use the word “more” here very intentionally) position sees death as a transition to that spiritual realm where there is no more death.
I am much more concerned with that second position, because as Fr. Schmemann points out many Christians have adopted just such an approach. Perhaps Platonic in origin, the view emphasizes the immortality of the soul. Many eastern faiths see death either as a natural transition and/or freedom from the confines of the body into or toward something greater, something better, and something higher. Sadly, we often hear Christians make comments that seem to have a definite leaning in this direction. Fr. Schmemann uninhibitedly reminds us that death is not something we reconcile with, it is something we FIGHT against…we are promised that it will be the “last enemy to be destroyed.” (I Cor. 15:26). Fr. Schmemann says: “Christianity is not concerned about coming to terms with death, but rather with the victory over it.” Death is never good – though it may be a mercy – it is always to be lamented.
The fact that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb is not, as I used to think, a sign of his humanity…on the contrary, it is clear evidence that He is the God who we Orthodox frequently call the “Lover of Mankind.”
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:40 AM [+]