All of this culture of denial falls away from us when we survey our surroundings in a cancer ward, hospice, or by the deathbed. Whether or not we die of cancer, all of us will die. It reminds me of the old children’s riddling rhyme: “Doctor, doctor, will I die? Yes, my child, and so will I.” Our cultural denial notwithstanding, we are not a race of immortals, and all of us will one day lie upon our deathbeds. As a priest, I have stood by a few of them. And then one realizes afresh what Pascha really means.
Pascha is not simply a liturgical feast, something celebrating the end of a rigorous Great Lent. And it is not simply the happy historical ending to our Lord’s life, an appendix added after the crucifixion saying, “And they all lived happily ever after.” Pascha is God’s promise that the moment of pain we endure by the deathbed is not the final word. For now we must be submerged in the horror and obscenity of death, but God’s plan is indeed for us to be a race of immortals, and one day this plan will be fulfilled. Hurtling down the years to our deathbed is not a journey to oblivion but to joy. When death’s cold hand finally closes our eyes, we will open them in paradise, and after our body returns to the dust from which it was taken, it will one day arise and be raised and transformed. Pascha is not simply about Christ’s happy ending, but about ours.
If one disbelieves in Christ and Pascha, then our cultural of denial of death makes good sense. We can’t do anything about the fearful fate which awaits us, so why think about it? Eat, drink, be merry, and watch television. But if what the Church says about Christ and Pascha is true, we don’t need the lies or the denial. We can look death in its fearful face and smile and say with Saint Paul, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death may prowl the cancer ward or the hospice and may roar by the deathbed, but it will be gone soon enough. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.