The resurrection of the dead, then, will certainly take place. The angel’s trumpet will definitely sound (Rev. 11, 15-18). What is important for us, however, is that we should have accomplished something in our life on earth towards the sanctification of our soul and body, so that the resurrection will not be ‘unto judgment’ for us, but ‘unto eternal life’ (Matth. 25, 46).
Of special benefit to us in this preparation is remembrance of death, vigilance and continuous readiness for our imminent departure from the world to heaven. Remembrance of death invigorates the soul and expands our existence, impelling us along the never-ending path ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3, 18). Remembrance of death also aligns us with the desire of the whole of creation, which, although it has been groaning in labour pains until now (Rom. 8, 22), continues to be nourished with hope and awaits its own liberation and its own eternal ‘beyond’.
The mystical sight of the ‘opposite bank’, of our eternal homeland, fortifies us on the path towards sanctification and in our efforts to prepare ourselves, insofar as we can, for the ‘great moment’, the revelatory encounter with the ‘Only Beloved’ (I. John 3, 2).
Moreover, the expectation of our relocation to our real, celestial homeland is an encouragement for us to develop closer relations with the citizens of heaven, the holy angels, as well as with our brothers and sisters who are already glorified, who lived ‘in the Lord’ and ‘departed in the hope of eternal life’. Because both the holy angels and our fathers and brethren who have already departed this life’ are watching our struggle and support us lovingly with their holy intercessions to the Giver and Sponsor of our life.
Remembrance of death, observance of the commandments, our relationship with the angelic world and with the departed lead to a continual diminution of the ego. They also help us to cut off our own will and to submit the whole of our life and existence to the will of God. Finally, they strengthen us in our acceptance of the demise of our loved ones and, at the same time, encourage us to concern ourselves with and to prepare more seriously for the matter of our own departure.
It’s the event that each and every one of us can be absolutely sure of: sooner or later death will come to us. Yet, for most people, the end of life remains greatly undesirable and is to be firmly resisted.
This is because, during the course of our life on this earth, we haven’t been nourished on the expectation of ‘the beyond’ and we don’t rely on the cornerstone of hope in Christ. As descendants of Adam, we’re surprised by the phenomenon of death, because we were certainly created for eternal life. And when we see the body of a loved one lying without breath, this shrouds our own hope, too.
Today, particularly, people are intent on what can be seen, what can be proved in the laboratory or can be proposed as a given, something beyond doubt. This is why they’ve lost all interest in what happens after death and, in particular, why any hope of resurrection and immortality has died within them.
Saint John Chrysostom points out the following strange phenomenon: a sower invests his livelihood in fresh earth, which he ploughs deep and feeds abundantly with good-quality seeds and hope. The fact that the seeds will rot and disappear for a time doesn’t concern him in a negative way, nor does it rob him of his expectation of new growth and a fine harvest. But when we have to lay the lifeless body of a person we love in the freshly-dug earth, we don’t feel the same hope and certainty as the sower. Then, the absence of the external signs of life is equated with irrevocable loss. This is because we don’t have within us the vision of ‘eternal spring’ and the joy of the expectation of that longed-for day ‘which has no evening’. People ‘of this age’ have become so one-dimensional that they’ve become used to defining everything in terms of natural laws.
This morning, James and John desire to be seated with Christ in His Glory. And our Lord, to test them, asks whether they are able to drink the cup that He drinks, and to be baptized with the baptism with which He is baptized. James and John answer, “We are able!” The response from Jesus, in a nutshell, is: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Today is the last Sunday of Great Lent, and on Friday evening just five days from now, we will begin the celebration of Holy Week. Friday evening will open a ten day long procession to the cross, to the tomb, and to the resurrection.
And as we get ready, our Lord extends the same invitation to us as He extended to James and John. To all of us who wish to see His glory, who desire to be by His side at Pascha, Jesus first says to you and to me, “but are you able and willing to drink the cup that I drink from? Are you able to walk with me through Holy Week? Are you willing to be by my side, and to carry my cross with me?”
I hope your answer is yes. I hope that Pascha is not just a Sunday on which we show up, having given no thought to Christ on the days of Holy Week.
To help us prepare — to help us take up and drink from the Lord’s same cup — I wanted to share a list of 10 things to do during Holy Week. These are ten recommendations for how to be baptized with the same baptism with which our Lord is baptized.