The quote used as this Reflection's title is not mine, but that of El Salvador's Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero. Considered a martyr, Romero was killed by gunfire while celebrating an evening Mass on March 24, 1980. The full quote (just days before his death) is:
"I have frequently been threatened with death. I must say that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death but in the resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people."
Romero and his story could be the basis of several Reflections. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Romero didn't intend to become a spokesperson for justice; but, seeing the oppression of his people and hearing the call of the gospel, he had to speak and act. His boldness in "speaking truth to power" was reflected when he harshly criticized the United States for giving military aid to El Salvador's oppressive government, even writing to President Jimmy Carter warning that increased US military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the political repression" in his country. Romero's assassination by a representative of the army's "Death Squads" while saying mass tells volumes of the possible cost of following Christ and taking him seriously. And, the archbishop's last words as he died, "May God have mercy on the assassins," sound so familiar.
But, as we approach Easter and the celebration of the risen Christ, it is the title quote, "I do not believe in death" that strikes me. Combined with its obvious corollary, "I believe in the resurrection," so much meaning begins to fall into place. "I Do Not Believe in Death; I Believe in The Resurrection!"
It has always disturbed me when I'd hear Christians say things such as, "I don't fear death." Or, "I'm sure in my salvation; death is only a passage to the Eternal Life, I'm not afraid." I'm disturbed, not because others say such things. ... It's because I can't! I'd be lying if I said I don't fear death. And feeling that way makes me wonder whether I really do believe; whether my faith is so much weaker than others.
Many can make such bold statements honestly and with conviction. But, I know I cannot. I'm afraid of death. I shudder at the pain and loss that some kinds of death involve. Perhaps I might change as I age, but at this stage of life and in good health, I don't look forward to death at all. The thought of the death of loved ones invokes thoughts of hurt, not happiness.
But, "I Do Not Believe in Death; I Believe in The Resurrection!" makes it all clear; it's like an "Aha! Moment". Now I have something I can latch onto; something that feels real ... and sincere. However, I must explain by referring to an earlier Reflection, I Believe in God & My Mechanic. In it, I said that today we usually think of beliefs as facts, concepts, statements of faith, and such. But prior to the 1660's, scholars say that the verb "believe" always had a person as its direct object. Such as saying, "I believe in my coach." And, "I believe in God." This is something more, something different from believing certain things about God. As I wrote in that Reflection, "Believing in God, believing in Jesus means something more like trusting God, having confidence in Jesus." There is a dynamic in, a power in "believing in!"
"We either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death."
Oscar Romero Now, Romero's quote helps me look at all this in a different and powerful way. I may fear death. I may even fight its advent. I might never look forward to it. But, with the slain archbishop, I can say, "I do not believe in death!" It may hold temporary sway. But, it is then over. Death holds no eternal power. Other than just in itself, it has no power. Death you are a real and, right now, a frightening part of life. But, I do not believe in you!
And, I can say with full conviction, "I DO believe in the resurrection!" I believe resurrection, not death, to be the final reality. Resurrection is the major transition along this path of fullness of life that Jesus said he came to give: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."John 10:10b, KJV. Now with this renewal of the mind, my Easter message is that I can say, and can say with conviction, "I Believe In The Resurrection!"
Some have said it other ways. Saint Paul said, "Death has been swallowed up in victory; Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NIV.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it (after reading the above Corinthians scripture): "It was a strange and dreadful strife, when life and death contended. The Victory remained with Life, the reign of death was ended."From a sermon preached in 1939, "Death is Swallowed Up in Victory", found in The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Isabel Best. Published 2012 by Fortress Press. This sermon pages 208-210. It is obvious that Bonhoeffer believed this scripture and trusted in the resurrection. His last words before his execution in 1945 were, "This is the end — for me, the beginning of life."
Speaker, author, and pastor Tony Campolo, in his trademark proclamation in many sermons says it, "It's Friday ... but Sunday's Coming!"
And, El Salvador's slain Archbishop Oscar Romero says: "I do not believe in Death. I believe in Resurrection!"
And, no matter how it's said, because of this, when Lent gives way to Easter morn (as tradition again allows the wordAlthough not in all Christian churches, a traditional practice is to refrain from saying the word "Alleluia" during the penitential period of Lent. This not saying the "A-word" probably has many roots and significances. For one, not saying Alleluia at the expected times and in song can be a reminder that we are in a special time, a time when we should feel a bit uneasy.), we can again shout and sing, "Alleluia, ALLEUIA!"