Death, Be Not Proud

Last night came the telephone call we had been expecting for a long time, although, when it did come, it came as a shock, as these things always do. Quietnun’s mother, Jean King, slipped quietly out of this world and into the next. She was 97.

I imagine Mrs King would be mildly perplexed by her daughter’s praying for her. As a good Scottish Episcopalian, she was not exactly in sympathy with Quietnun’s firm belief in purgatory as the final preparation for the vision of God. All the rituals with which we surround the dead body — the sprinkling with holy water, the incensing, the deep bows to what was in life a temple of the Holy Spirit and is now closer to that vision of God than those of us who remain — would have seemed alien to her. I have no doubt, however, that she would have affirmed her belief in her Saviour, Jesus Christ, and trusted to the love of her children to perform all the last offices with reverence and dignity.

Death has become something of a taboo subject today. We use euphemisms like ‘passed away’ and speak of ‘the deceased’ as though they had ceased to be real persons. The truth is, they are more real now than they have ever been. We shall soon be celebrating the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Together they invite us to understand what the Church is, what her hope is, and how we ourselves fit into the great story of humanity and our redemption in Christ.

Today in the monastery there is no weeping and wailing but instead a grave quietness, a sense of irreplaceable loss, a confident hope in the goodness and mercy of God. In short, a host of apparently contradictory feelings brought into unity by the belief that Mrs King has entered upon the final purifcation and we can aid her by our prayers. Death destroys many things, but it cannot destroy love which reaches beyond this world to the next.