Life in the Midst of Death
I have seen these things in a shaft of sunlight
Death was all about, echoing from the walls: it was difficult to avoid, no matter how hard I tried. In these sorts of places dying is expected; if not completely accepted, as far as it is possible for men to do so- death passes through and leaves an empty bed, cold, barren, forgotten. Her face, so worn and wearied by many years, looked up from the steel-framed bed, the walls staring dimly down, sterile, cold, and dark. Apertures of hospitals whirred and blinked overhead, mechanical and staid. The dying of the human body was vivid: but not an irreversible death.
Out of the picture of sterility and death the image of life and light arose, strangely mingled together with death- but promising triumph. She smiled- up out of the wrinkled sheets, the wrinkled skin ravaged by the entropy of a sin-wearied world. She glowed, with love and faith flowing forth like some miraculous ether, over the worn-out form of her body, spilling over into the room. I beheld a vibrantly living saint of God, living because Someone shared in the condition of that hospital bed, of that human forsakenness, of the awful human state of death: He shared in it, and He utterly overcame it. He spilled righteousness over into sin, life over into death, and He conquered. Now I watched as she conquered over death, infused with the life of Life Himself. St. Athanasius said in De Incarnatione
that proof of Christ’s victory was all around, if one would only have the eyes to look. He thought especially of the martyrs and confessors from the recent persecutions; I am certain that such evidence rests to-day, not only in martyrs and confessors, but also in those who show forth the victory of Christ in other ways, in convalescent beds and missions in the slums.
She spoke to us a brief while. I do not recall what precisely she said: but I do strongly recall the sense of love: not the empty, lust-ridden stuff of the world, but the love pouring down from God, and raising up frail humans into itself. She did not complain, even in the awful ache of a decaying body, in suffering; I thought bitterly afterward of all my senseless complaints, despite all my worldly comforts. She said few words, but far better words than I muster over the great part of my day. We prayed together, her and the others with me. I began with thanksgiving, which seemed exuberantly natural and easy all on a sudden: as it should be at all times, but our eyes are murky, and our voices stilted and halting. She joined in at the end of my prayer, praying in the manner of one speaking to a Friend.
In the very midst of all her frailty, in the middle of her silent suffering, in the midst of threatening death, faithful love shone forth, a paradox visible to the eyes. I do not know how these things can be; I do not know how God could become man, how the Comforter could suffer, the Life die. I do not fully perceive how He binds up the broken, heals those 'sick unto death.' I do not see the Holy Spirit dwelling in the shattered human body, but I do know that He makes His temple glorious in His own manner, far more glorious than we could ever imagine. I know and I do not know how the Lord of glory embraced a cross and overcame death and brought us life. I have seen these things in dancing patches of light in the gloom. I have gently gripped the hand of one shining in Christ, one awaiting her redemption. I have peered into the Light in the midst of a dark nursing-home room.
Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.