At the service of the World

Easter Means No More Death


By Cyril Desbruslais sj, SAR NEWS


In early Christian times, there was baptism by total immersion. This was able to bring out better our “being buried” with Jesus through the sacrament (the waters that engulfed one symbolising Jesus’ being buried in the earth), to rise with him to the New Life of the Resurrection.

This was, indeed, a very meaningful and eloquent way of doing things, but – for practical reasons – it had to be replaced by a mere pouring of water over the head. This was because water was – and still is – a rather scarce commodity in Biblical lands (and elsewhere) and it was difficult to keep a large amount of it at hand for such purposes in every Church. And, in Western countries, where it was quite cold most of the year, they didn’t want to risk people falling ill.

Still, if and where it can be done – especially with older neophytes – it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

St. Paul, in Roman 6: 1 – 11 (and elsewhere) suggests an apt reflection on this practice. What he tells us, in effect, is that death – for anyone who believes in the Power of the Resurrection and has experienced this Sacrament of Initiation – is an event of the past. The only real death a Christian knows is something that he or she has finished with: when he or she died, once and for all  to the power of sin on being plunged into baptismal waters whence one would rose to newness of Life in the Spirit. From then on, all that awaits him or her is life and more life. That which we call “death” is nothing but a passage to a higher life.

There is a close and revelatory parallel between birth and death. The birth of a little child into this world is, from the point of view of its earlier ‘foetus-life’, a kind of death. The foetus has to die to its former way of life in order to live in this world, to breathe in air. And this doesn’t come easy: birth is achieved with a strangled, shuddering cry as the infant struggles and learns to inhale-exhale (sometimes with the help of a smack from the midwife or assisting gynaecologist).

Indeed, if one were able to speak to the foetus, it would be quite alarmed to be told of  its impending ‘birth’! It would see it as death, as a disaster, as an end to its nice, peaceful ‘life’ in the womb, where all meals were delivered on time, everything was at the right temperature and there were no worries, anxieties, duties or pains. To any of us, our old and forgotten foetus-life would not be fit to be called life, compared to the existence we know now.

Sure, it has its pains and aches but, everything considered, this alone is fit to be called life.

And so it is with what we call ‘death’. From our point of view, from the side that corresponds to the foetus-life, this seems to be just fine.

We’re in no hurry to die; we tend to cling to this life. But we’ll realise one day that when we die or let go to this life (from our present point of view), we’d be opening our eyes to a newer and higher form of life that would render this form of it as hardly worthy of the name.

Thanks to Easter, the only death we know has taken place in the past and all that awaits us is life and more life.


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April 26th, 2011




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