“Death, then, contains the germ of life. There is no life on the communal level that does not originate in death. Death can appear as the true godhead, the confluence of the most beneficent and most maleficent forms of violence.” — Rene Girard
If there is one phenomenon that goes beyond human understanding, it is death. It is the undiscovered country, which rests on the other side of the farthest shore. And in our modern society, it is even more mysterious, since it is so professionalized. There are two general feelings towards death: those who embrace it as rest and as the beginning of something new, and those who recoil against it as the shroud of the unknown and the loss of everything known. Either way, death is a violent interruption of the course of the human experience.
By violent, of course, I don’t necessarily mean that it has a bloody kind of force. No, it is a sudden rupture that is other, beyond our control and our knowledge. It operates on us. And at the center of Christianity, there is the greatest death, the greatest violence: the death of God in Jesus Christ. The old hymn puts it well, “‘Tis mystery all, the Immortal dies.” God, the Source of Life, dies and so enters into that undiscovered country, that ontological nothingness. Why?
If God is life, then separation from God is death. And death separates us. Death would exist outside of God, outside the good and the beautiful. We could imagine a situation, in a perfect world, where either death would not be or it would be possible to die into God. To die and be received into the divine life. But we choose all the time not to live into the divine life when we are alive. So why would our deaths be any different?
Because of the love of God. In the movement of God, Jesus Christ has entered into death, bringing life and being into the very heart of nothingness. In being raised to new life, he has shown that death is defeated and that it no longer has any string. We often forget this, and we often live in fear of death as Christians (let alone as people), because to believe in the faithfulness of God is a hard thing and to believe in the faithfulness of God beyond death is an even harder thing to do. We need reminders.
That is why at the heart of Christianity, the violence that sends the Lord of Life into death, the crucifixion of Jesus, is portrayed again and again. This is the Eucharist, in which the bread which is his body is broken and the wine which is his blood is outpoured. This is a violence we all re-enact, so to be joined to Jesus through the sharing of his body and his blood. In this violence, we pass out of the violence of death and the violence would we perpetrate against one another, since we have received the new commandment: love one another. In loving one another, we pass with each other into the life of God, who is love and perfect community. It is in this love, this love that suffered death and rose to new life, that we find life and life everlasting.