“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so; For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death…. One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.” So wrote the 17th century poet John Donne about the freedom from the seemingly unsurpassable power of death and the promise of new life, eternal life at the core of our Easter celebrations.
A decade ago, while leading an RCIA session on “Last Things,” which included death and resurrection, a young woman named Camille asked a question. Camille was severely burdened by cerebral palsy, spent her days in a motorized wheel chair, and was only able to communicate via a computer and synthesized voice. She operated the voice system via a “pointer” that was reminiscent of a miner’s lamp. She pointed the laser at the special screen and laboriously typed out her thoughts letter by letter. When she hit “go” out came this eerie metal-ghost voice. In the midst of our class, we were all caught by surprise when we heard, “When I die, will I get a new body in heaven? Will I be whole?” Camille would have well understood Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10. Because of her faith, neither death nor this life held power over her. In a unique way, she hoped in the promise and wholeness of the Resurrection.
Hope is a powerful thing. Hope creates faith in a better future and therefore leads one to act, to actually do something to bring about that better future. Without hope it’s incredibly difficult to press ahead, to face the challenges of the day, to do anything but merely get by. With hope you can risk extraordinary things, do extraordinary things because the future is not only open but also promised. Hope is not optimism, for while optimism involves the expectation that things are eventually going to get better, hope asserts that no matter what may come, no matter how bad things may get, God’s word and promise will prevail. Hope is located beyond our immediate circumstances. Camille deeply understood the hope of Resurrection.
So do the children of dying parents. It is a hard thing to watch one’s parent be slowly reduced from the taller-than-life person who raised you, to the one who is so dependent upon you. It is hard to hear the words, “We’ve done all that modern medicine can do. We need to consider comfort measures only.” What can one do, but wait in Hope?
In the waiting, one prays and remembers better days, wondering what lay ahead. I have been there. At the bedside of my own parents and at the bedsides of others’ parents. While alone with my thoughts, the words of the Eucharistic Prayer II always come to mind: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection.” We will all reach that point, the start of John Donne’s “one short sleep past.” We pray for a miracle that our loved one might wake, assured that they will surely wake eternally.
On this Easter, let us give praise and glory for what God has promised and made visible in the Resurrection of Jesus. Let us be humbled by people such as Camille who live life writ large in the hope of Christ. Let us pray for all those who linger in the gloaming of this earthly life, may they awake as God wills. And we who remain, may we risk extraordinary things because of the future opened and promised in Hope.
He is risen. Alleluia, Alleluia!! Let us live in that Hope. For in the great by-and-by, we live knowing that, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.” All things will be made whole, all will be reunited – and it begins today.