The Roman soldiers watched our Lord die but gave him little attention; they were rolling dice at the time. Zacharias, five hundred years earlier, had prophesied that they shall look on him whom they pierced. Mary, John, and the holy women “looked on” the dead Christ but they had not pierced him. Nor had Nicodemus and Joseph. The crowds had gone, and the priests and Roman officials who were responsible for the piercing had not been present anyway. So apart from the unimpressed guards, who would not have stayed on longer than they had to, to whom is the prophesy most applicable? To ourselves. We are not in the position of casual bystanders or military torturers: we know that here is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity hanging dead on the cross. He had died for us; collectively but individually too. So if we have pierced him and are looking on, we must make sure that we see in right perspective. This we do best by “dying daily” with Saint Paul; Both in life and in death, says Saint Paul again, we are the Lord’s.
While Saint Paul is the chief exponent of dying to sin and living to Christ, Saint John provides us with the most appropriate text for this section of the book when he says in Revelation: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Once again it refers to a sharing in all that Christ has to bring. Though the words may refer here to every soul who dies in a state of grace, they refer particularly to the soul that “lives in the Lord” by making him the goal of all desire. If we are seriously trying to live in the Lord, there is every reason to believe that we shall die in the Lord. Certainly to die outside the Lord would be the crowning tragedy for those who have lived without regard for him.
Without Jesus Christ, wrote Pascal on the death of his father, death is horrible. In Jesus Christ it is quite otherwise: it is something to be loved, it is holy, it is the joy of the faithful. Everything is sweet in Jesus Christ, even death, and this is why he has suffered and died – to sanctify suffering and death. In our consideration of death we make the mistake of thinking of it in isolation: either apart from Christ’s death, as suggested in the Pascal quotation, or apart from Heaven. The thought of death on its own is a negative thought. Without having consciously to grace the developing process, the more we think of his dying for us, and the more we think of Christ dying for us, the more we think of death – his and ours – in terms of the resurrection and Heaven. No one knew this better than Saint Paul. To the Romans: Both in life and in death we are the Lord’s; that is why Christ died and came to life again. To the Corinthians: He died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sakes died and was raised up. To the Philippians: To me life means Christ; hence dying is so much gain, whether I live or die, Christ will be exalted through me. Life, death, Heaven: To be thought of less as separate entities than as different aspects of the one entity, namely Christ. Even had we no spiritual aspirations to act as incentive, psychologically we cannot help longing for something better than what we are getting here on Earth. It is the work of grace so to train our desires on the absolute that we get our perspectives right. We see Heaven as perfect and unending love, and everything else in relation to that.