What is death? Is it a gaping maw of nothingness? Is it the opposite of being and existence? If so, is life the same thing as being? When I die, will I cease to live and cease to be, or will I in some sense continue to be?
Death is, foremost, an absence. But it is an absence that can only be felt in light of a persistent presence. I miss those loved ones who are not with me, and their absence is like a presence – an empty coat hook or one less plate at the table. That void is, in a sense, filled in by my own memory of that person. Even in their non-presence I am reaching out to them, relating to them. It is because they have become part of me.
Friendship, according to Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics), culminates in a mutual indwelling – even to the point of participating in the same nature – what he terms connaturality. It follows then, in light of friendship, that connaturality and relationality are correlative concepts. The former arises out of the latter, consequently enlivening it in a circular fashion – unity and alterity. This cycle is ruptured in the face of absence, but not destroyed. On the contrary, it sharpens the desire for the other that draws one back to union. The power of this attraction is none other than love.
Death as a perichoretic mystery of the Trinity should be considered in this light; while the person of the Logos, fully united to humanity suffered death and separation, the tri-unity was never destroyed. This is because the Divine Love, which is God Himself, was not destroyed. For it was the Person of Love, the Father’s love for his Son perfectly returned by the Son to the Father, who reaches beyond and destroys the grave. Death, in the dead Christ, is impregnated and exploded with Life – a life invigorated by the Father’s love in the Holy Spirit. This love, beyond death and separation, retains and embraces his Son in an essential way. In some distant and analogous way, I experience this in holding on to, despite and because of the pain of separation, that image of the loved one that dwells deep within me. It is that image that drives me, with the power of love, to reunion.
Thus the person of the Holy Spirit, in penetrating death, transfiguring it, reunites the Father and the Son in a vital unity that, because of the ineffable power of God’s Love, never perished. It is a unity beyond death that is offered to us all by grace. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we cry “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6) it is, in unison with Jesus, a cry that flies to God the Father beyond our mortality. And when he responds with the Spirit of life, (Ezekiel 37:5) he unites us to him with a love that never forgot us, that always held us as a seal on his Divine heart - a love that is indeed stronger than death. (Song of Songs 8:6)