Advent I

DEATH

The season of Advent has traditionally been a time for the Church to meditate upon matters
eschatological. Eschatology is the branch of theology which concerns what happens to our souls when we pass from this life and into the next. There are 'four final things': death, judgement, heaven, and hell. The propers and readings for the four Sundays of Advent reflect these themes. 

In pre-Pandemic times, Sarah and I used to wander around the English countryside clad in Barbour jackets and wandering into medieval churches in the middle of nowhere. Invariably, we would frequently come across cadaver tombs. These macabre memorials were extremely popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As in the inset image, these tombs are typically double-decker. The top level contains an ornate effigy of the deceased noble/bishop/squire/knight (delete as applicable) wearing their full regalia. The lower level, however, is a different story: it contains a sculpture of a cadaver. This is not a simple skeleton but rather a decomposing corpse with a terrifying grimace on its face. The message is clear: no amount of worldly pomp or achievement matters in death. 

***

'Death is nothing at all, 
I have only passed into the next room...' 

So opens a famous poem by the Victorian clergyman Henry Scott Holland. Though a comforting soundbite, it is not wholly accurate. 

In Sunday's Gospel reading, Jesus speaks in a short parable to his disciples. In it, he says that the Lord of the house has gone abroad and ordered his servant to keep watch until his return. The time of his return, however, is not known. As such, the servant must remain awake and alert until the Lord of the house comes back. Jesus warns that there will be consequences if he is found to be asleep. 

Our face-to-face encounter with God is just around the corner. We do not know how small (or large) this corner might be, but we can be certain that we are coming closer and closer to rounding it with every second that passes.   

Death is not 'nothing at all', and it is certainly more significant than simply 'passing into the next room.'


***

Music: William Byrd
Words: Mark 13.35-7
Artists: Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Richard Marlow


Watch ye therefore (for you know not when the lord of the house cometh,
at even, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning):
Watch therefore, lest coming on a sudden, he find you sleeping.
And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch.






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