When we purchased our house, it had a few strange quirks. One of those quirks was a nook in the living room, about three feet deep by six feet wide. I’m honestly not sure what the purpose of this nook was originally, outside of being leftover after creating a space for the washer and dryer. But the upshot is that, along the side of our room, there was this strange rectangular corner that you couldn’t really do much with. It was wide enough that you could put a desk in there, but if anyone wanted to use it, they’d be blocking one of the two entryways into the living room . . . which would be annoying for both the person entering and the desk-sitter. You could put a small table in there, but it wouldn’t be a terribly efficient use of space. After all, it’s still 18 square feet of our (fairly small) house being chewed up by that strange corner. It’s safe to say that, if we were designing the house from scratch, we would definitely not have put such a nook in there.
After we purchased the place, we were struck with inspiration. We ended up putting two three-foot-wide bookshelves along the sides of the nook, and then bridging those shelves with custom-cut (but still very inexpensive) six-foot lengths of wood. This resulted in U-shaped floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the space of which was absolutely perfect for our extensive collection of games. We then put curtains along the edge of the nook, and the whole thing was practically invisible and looked totally in place with the rest of the living room. So, while we would never have wanted such a space in that room if we’d planned it, it’s difficult to imagine such an arrangement working any other way for us.
Death didn’t start out as part of God’s plan for humanity. It’s a consequence of original sin, of humanity basically saying, “Hey, I know better than God, and I’m willing to go it alone.” And so, having eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, death has entered the world, and we’re fully aware of our mortality. And it colors everything we do, from the fears of pregnancy and childbirth to the angst of watching over our children for years, to worry about grown children, to our own worries of illness and incapacitation, to the end of our lives in this world.
But an odd thing happened after humanity’s indiscretions led to death. God took death and made it part of the plan. Not unlike the odd, undesirable, seemingly useless nook in our living room, death has become an integral element, still not exactly desirable or perfect, but an indispensable element of life’s tapestry regardless.
Christ died on the cross, and — in doing so — saved the world from sin. To those who believe and act accordingly, we have had the gates of Heaven opened wide to us, a journey which is only possible through death. Death has proven the sincerity of martyrs and the power of belief, bringing the Word to all corners of the world.
Death in the mortal world drives some to act in terror, but to others, it remains a powerful focus. One reason I remain steadfast in my love for my wife, my family, and my friends is understanding that death could cut short our time together at a moment’s notice; it’s harder for me to take that love for granted knowing that.
All of this — perhaps my longest preamble yet — leads to today’s readings. The first reading from the Letter to the Colossians imparts a powerful truth: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It reminds us: “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly . . .” It then goes on to list many real ways that parts of us must die: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.”
If death is going to shadow humanity until the end of days, then we — together with God — will use death, killing the parts of us that need to die to get us closer to God.
Today’s Gospel selection, from Luke, is the Sermon on the Plain. It talks about how the poor will be blessed with the Kingdom of God, how the hungry will be satisfied, how the mourning will be happy. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!” What day? Well, on a personal level, on the day of death, when the hardships of this world can no longer claim us, and the promises of Christ are fulfilled to believers. Ultimately, that will lead to the resurrection of the dead, when death itself is overcome fully and the fullness of God’s plan is made manifest to the world.
Today’s Psalm proclaims that God’s “Kingdom is a Kingdom for all ages.” In light of that, if we hew close to Christ and his teachings, death is little more than a blip on the larger timeline of eternity.
None of us are happy about death. It’s not something God had wanted as part of the original plan, and it’s not something we’d choose if we were selecting the blueprints of our own realities. But if — by humanity’s own mistakes and failings — death is going to be the unsightly nook of our mortal lives, then it behooves us to make the most of it, to take the guidance of Sacred Scripture to heart and put to death the parts of us that need to die. Christ used his own death to save the world, and our deaths will lead to the Kingdom. Praise to God for turning the consequence of our original sin into something so vital to humanity!