Thursday of the fifth week of Lent
The readings for the day can be found here.
“Amen, amen, I say to you: Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.”
Faith calls us not only to believe in what is unseen but also to believe in what is not possible. A promise from our God that we will never taste death if we but keep up our end of the covenant? This defies human experience. It denies an essential, unchangeable condition of being human.
To make sense of Jesus’ promise, one made frequently in the Gospels, we are often exhorted to set our focus beyond death. We take the promise to refer to that after-death moment when we are to experience the new life prepared for us in our Father’s house.
Jesus himself comforted His friends with the image of many rooms ready for them and the promise that they would be with Him again. The belief in life after death can be a consolation when someone we love has died, especially “too soon.” But, sometimes, this comfort can seem so hollow –thin reeds to grasp onto in the midst of visceral grief and suffering.
I believe that we risk diluting God’s promise in today’s reading if “skip over” the dying, the death, the separation, the loss and focus only on the new life after death. Yes, a promise of life after death makes sense of today’s reading, but we have to embrace the reality of death to make sense of our human experience.
In this, the upcoming Holy Week reveals the depth of its truth. The Resurrection is awesome, of course, but it is not the whole story. In the Crucifixion, the very One who promised we would not taste death suffered a most gruesome death. He experienced physical and emotional suffering beyond imagination. And His mother watched helplessly as her only Son died too soon and too cruelly.
Because of the Resurrection, we know that Jesus’ promise of life after death is true. Because of the Crucifixion, we know that our God truly and humanly experienced the deepest suffering that dying can visit upon us. He is with us, not only waiting for us after it is over.
Sandra Johnson is Professor Emerita of Law and Health Care Ethics. She held a variety of positions during her time at SLU, beginning with a work-study position as a secretary in DuBourg Hall, faculty member, interim dean, provost (a repeat tour of duty in DuBourg), and now happy retiree.