Death casts its long shadow over us all and when it comes (whether physical death or the many spiritual deaths we experience) it can seem to empty everything of meaning or purpose. Yet, the tomb of Christ becomes the womb of the whole world. The seed of His life is hidden in darkness only that it should quicken in countless hearts for all time.
Daughters, you will often be overwhelmed and exhausted by the realities of life that threaten to cast you into despair. You now bear the sufferings of Christ as members of His body and often it will feel like complete agony and absolute darkness - as absolute as the tomb. Fear not, however, for every death in Christ is also followed by a rising in Him. No matter how long the winter of your suffering or deep the numbing of your heart might become, wait in hope for the love that will dawn in you and the warmth of the eternal light that will never dim.
Night fell. Everything, it seemed, was over. The faithful Apostle, Nicodemus who lent Him his tomb, and the holy women could do no more. It was like the dreadful anticlimax that follows every funeral, every death. Everyone who had loved Him was exhausted, emptied out. It seemed that the whole world was emptied out, that there was no longer any meaning or purpose in anything.
Yet, it would seem, looking back down the years, that there has never been a night so pregnant with life, so full of mercy and eternal love as that night, a night of such meaning and such purpose.
Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life; that which happened thirty years ago in the womb of the Virgin Mother was happening now, but now it was happening yet more secretly, yet more mysteriously, in the womb of the whole world.
Christ had already told those who flocked to hear Him preach that the seed must fall into the earth, or else remain by itself alone. Now the seed of His life was hidden in darkness in order that His life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning. It was the beginning of Christ-life in multitudes of souls. It was the beginning, too, of the renewal of Christ’s life in countless souls.
For just as Christ was soon to rise from the dead with His human body and live again on earth, He would rise from the dead over and over again in a spiritual sense, in the souls of countless sinners everywhere until the end of time. From that hour, for as long as the world lasted, there would be resurrection everywhere. Christ-life would return to souls of sinners who wept for their sins as spring returns in all its loveliness of delicate grass and wildflower to the dark, hard earth watered by the rain of April.
On the night of Christ’s burial, many who loved Him must have been overwhelmed by grief and exhaustion that threatened to become despair; yet never has there been a night in the whole history of mankind so pregnant with the secret of the unending life and joy that was to break upon the world with the dawn.
For Christ Himself, pain and suffering had ended. Only in His members, those “other Christs” in whom His life on earth would go on through time, would He suffer anymore. Their suffering would be transformed into His, and never could it be for them, no matter how terrible it might sometimes seem to be, the complete agony, the absolute darkness, that it was for Him in His human life; because not only would Christ have already experienced everything they would do, but He would have already overcome all those things they feared.
“Fear not,” He had said to His apostles and to all who would follow Him in all time; “Fear not, for I have overcome the world”: as if He would say to each and every one of us whom He would indwell, “Fear not, for I have overcome your sins; I have overcome your temptations; I have overcome all things that you shrink from, all your sufferings of mind and body; fear not, for I am within you, I who have already overcome the world.”
Jesus, lying in the borrowed tomb, was at peace—His suffering was over, His love was consummated, every hour of darkness moved closer to the light, closer to the morning of resurrection, closer to the time when He would rise from the dead to live forever.
In every life of every Christian there are countless resurrections—just as there are always many times when every Christian is buried with Christ.
In the soul of the sinner Christ dies many deaths and knows the glory of many resurrections.
In the souls that have served Him faithfully, too, there are long periods that seem like death, periods of dryness of spirit when all the spiritual things that once interested them have become insufferably tedious and boring, when it is very difficult, even sometimes impossible, to say a prayer; when the sweetness has gone out of the love of God, when the soul seems bound in the iron bondage of the winter of the spirit like the seed held in iron of the black frozen earth in the wintertime. These are the winters of the spirit indeed! But just as Christ suffered everything that all those who were to follow Him would suffer, all those “other Christs” who have come after Him have suffered, and will suffer in a spiritual sense, everything that He suffered in His human life on earth.
One of these things is lying in the tomb, bound and restricted in the burial bands. There come times in every life when the soul seems to be shut down, frostbound in the hard, ironbound winter of the spirit; times when it seems to be impossible to pray, impossible even to want to pray; when there seems to be only cold and darkness numbing the mind.
These indeed are the times when Christ is growing towards His flowering, towards His spring breaking in the soul—towards His ever-recurring resurrection in the world, towards His glorious Resurrection in the hearts of men.
Again and again He has referred to Himself and to His divine life in us as seed buried in the earth, and so it is. There are times when we experience no sweetness, no consolation, no visible sign of the presence and the growth of Christ in us; these above all other times are those in which Christ does in fact grow to His flowering in us.
There seems to be nothing that we can do in these times to honor God, but by ourselves there is nothing that we can do at any time. In Christ, we can do just what He did, remain quietly in the tomb, rest and be at peace, trusting God to awaken us in His own good time to a springtime of Christ, to a sudden quickening and flowering and new realization of Christ-life in us.
It is always from the deaths of the spirit that Christ’s Resurrection comes. When we know ourselves as sinners and are sorry, our resurrection is at hand. When we are ironbound in the winter frost of aridity, the springtime of resurrection is very near.
When it seems that we have failed, that everything is over, and we are in the darkness of the tomb with Christ, then the angels will come and roll away the great heavy stone, and resurrection with Christ will come.
There are many deaths before the death of the body. There are many, many resurrections, before that last eternal resurrection that will reunite our bodies and souls forever, to live forever full lives of love and endless bliss that will never be interrupted again.
All those little deaths of the spirit show us the mystery of that last death and that endless rising from the dead.
Death is not something to fear. Fear will be over and done with when it comes. Then the possibility of sin will be over, the danger of ever again being parted from Christ will be over, the pains and the desolations of body and soul on earth will be over.
We shall not be parted from those whom we love on earth, but only hidden from them for a time, a time that will pass swiftly; and when it is past, we shall be reunited with everyone we loved here forever, with no more fear of loss, with no shadow at all cast upon our human love.
We have nothing to fear.
Christ has died each of our deaths for us. He will be with us all, saint and sinner alike, in our rising from the dead.
It is to each one of us that He spoke on the night before He died, saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
So be it. Come, Lord Jesus, come! “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”
Excerpt From: Caryll Houselander. “Way of the Cross.”