The Grave- The Ladder of Heaven
“The Source of Life is laid in a grave and transferred to life, and her tomb becomes a ladder to heaven” -Vespers of the Dormition
“Listen, I tell you a mystery, we will not die, but we will be changed”. -1 Corinthians 15:51
A verse from Vespers for the Dormition of the Mother of God can give us an idea about what death is about. “The Source of Life is laid in the tomb,” indicating that this day commemorates her departure from this earthy existence. The Dromition is more then this: “her tomb becomes a ladder to heaven”. These words remind us that the grave of all who have died in Christ also becomes as it were a ladder to heaven. The Mother of God’s departure has always been seen as being more then her soul’s departure. The ancient tradition of the Church is that her body also was preserved from remaining in the grave, but taken into heaven. This is a promise of the future for all of us. The Mother of God is the model for all of us who follow Christ.
Our thoughts of death usually center on the death of others not our own. Now, having reached this age, more and more I realize my own mortality. My family circle of parents, relatives, and friends grows smaller with the years. New thoughts about what really is important to me have risen. My “companions” at that time were the writings of the Old Testament prophets (more about them later) and the writings of Fr. Henri Nouwen. I can relate to many of the questions of life, vocation that he wrestled with in his life. Questions such as: “what is my responsibility to myself and others around me?
One question was about the time of life we have left. I would like to give you some of his thoughts: Every day should be lived well: Only one thing seems clear to me, every day should be well lived. What a simple truth. Still, it is worth my attention. Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I love? These are the real questions that I hope will bear fruit in this world and in the world to come”.
The second thought has a lot to say for this feast: “After a very short visit to earth the time comes for us to pass from this world to the next. We have been sent into this world as God’s beloved children, and in our passages and our losses we learn to love each other as spouse, parent, brother, or sister. We learn to support one another through the passages of life. Finally we ourselves are called to exodus, and we leave the world for full communion with God. It is possible for us, like Jesus, to send our spirit of love to our friends when we leave them. Our spirit, our love we leave behind, is deeply in God’s Spirit. It is our greatest gift to those we love”
And this life is a journey: “We, like Jesus are on a journey, living to make our lives abundantly fruitful through our learning. When we leave this life, we will say the words that Jesus said”’ it is good for you that I leave, because unless I pass away, I cannot send you my spirit to help you and inspire you”’.
We Americans tend to view aging and death as enemies. The Dormition can lead us to a new spiritual vision of death. To see death as being an important part of the process of life which continues beyond the grave. It is the ladder by which we enter our eternal relationship with God – a relationship that continues to grow throughout eternity.