Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is Death The End?

I found this quote among my computer files which gave rise to a reflection on death and "the end":
"In the solemn opening of the second part of the Gospel, (Jn 13:1), we are told that the hour had come for Jesus to return to his Father.

Then John adds the unforgettable line that ‘Jesus having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them eis telos, to the end, a phrase that can be and has been interpreted to mean
to the end of his life,
to the end of our life,
to the end of the world,
to the extreme limit possible,
a love without limit and conditions and boundaries,
a love without end and a love that would achieve its final purpose and goal.

All that Jesus would do and say and suffer from now on in the upper room,
in the garden, during the trials by Jewish and Roman authorities,
the way of the cross and death on the cross are especially signs
of that agape eis telos, love to the end and love without end."
(Joseph Kallarangatt, "Johannine Understanding of Mission," [text rearranged]
The Gospel of John captures so much of the meaning of the life of Jesus in that verse: "Jesus having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (John 13:1)
The phrase "the end" has several meanings, as Kallarangatt notes. This passage is speaking about the death Jesus is about to undergo. As I wrote last week, death can be seen as the enemy, especially when it is thought to be "the end," that life is no more. When a book announces "The End," we know the book is finished. That means there is nothing more to the story to be told.

If a book is very well written and inspires us, we don’t want it to end. We want more. Our lives are the same way; we do not want them to end–we want more. Even if our lives are full of suffering we still hope for a new chapter where all is better. This "wanting more" is our innate desire for eternal life, I believe.
An interesting thing about a book that has come to "The End" is that the book itself still exists, only the story of the book ends. Perhaps this is an analogy of our life and death: when we die, the story of our life in this world is ended; but who we are (like the book) still remains. I’ll come back to this shortly.

Jesus wrestled with the fact that he was going to suffer and die. In the Garden of Gethsemene he prayed that the Cup of Suffering might pass him by; but he added "Not my will, Father, but Thy will be done." Jesus was fully human and he had our normal life instinct for self-preservation. Yet he subjects that self-preservation to the will of God which puts self-donation first. That is because self-giving is integral to love and God is love (See 1 John 4:8 HERE ).
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick mentions: "Moreover he [Jesus] loved us so much that he died for our sake." Pope John Paul II taught that "The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love...Love also gives meaning to suffering and death." (Encyclical Evangelium Vitae §81)
Jesus loved us "to the end." As Kallarangatt noted, the word translated "end" in the original Greek telos, can mean "final purpose" or "final goal" which is related to the meaning of something. So it is like when we speak of the "end-zone" in football. We don’t mean the zone is "no more"; we mean that getting the ball to that zone is the purpose of the game, literally "the goal." (You can see how the word "end" can have two meanings. The end of a football game can mean "it is over" (referring to time) or less common, "to make many goals so as to win" (referring to purpose).
In Jesus' case the end of his life in reference to time was when he died on the Cross; but the end of his life–meaning the purpose of his life–was to fully love God and love us with the love of God in his human life. If we are united to him in Baptism, then that is our purpose also, with "the love of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us." (Romans 5:5) And when we die, we die in his love. So his love is the goal, the purpose of our life.
As we know, however, Jesus’ death on the Cross was not really the end of Jesus himself. It was the end of his earthly life; but we believe he rose again from the dead.
Now to use our book analogy, the Resurrection doesn’t mean that the book was buried and then dug up and "The End" was crossed out (could be a pun) and a new chapter is started.
Many think of Resurrection that way: as a return to this life but without end. No; Resurrection means the "transformation" of our human life into a different kind of existence. So the book analogy would be this: after the book ends, it is "recreated" into a new kind of book, made  of this earth, but also now made of heaven. And this "heavenly book" includes a first  chapter about our life on earth. But now, the story of our life never ends. The second chapter continues the  love story between God and ourselves, begun in the first chapter, but that love "never ends."  So death is not the end, love and everlasting life is the end--the goal.
"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne,
 and  books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.
And the dead were judged by what was written in the books,
according to what they had done." (Revelation 20:12)