Death of the Beloved
Of Death he knew what we know generally:
Death takes us and it thrusts us into silence.
She was not torn from him, but silently
the sight of her was washed out from his eyes
till, gradually dissolved, she must have gone
gliding away into that unknown land
of Shades; there she would smile and shine upon
them like a maiden moon, forever kind.
And gradually the dead and he were kin
as if through her they had been close-related.
Although he heard the words the living said
he thought them false and paid them no attention:
Death's land he thought, seemed kind and doubly sweet.
He read its braille for traces of her feet.
Rainer Maria Rilke from ‘Neue Gedichte’ (New Poems).
This beautiful poem that I have read several times catches the idea of the impact of love. The person who has loved feels the love after death, the beauty of the moment keeps him going and it emphasises how we should all live for the beauty of love. He still feels the love, like a blind person reads Braille and death is now something that is sweet and kind.
This afternoon, I managed to find another book by J. A. T. Robinson, the Bishop of Woolwich who in the 60’s was one of the most controversial Bishops. I find a lot of common sense in his writing and I can’t help admiring him. Chapter 1 is called ‘The Christian Society and this World’. He is discussing the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15 – ‘O death where is thy sting?’. The Corinthians were struggling with a new problem – What does the resurrection mean? Instead of life after death, the Jewish ideal was that at the point when the Messiah comes, the dead will be raised, in other words there was no life after death in the sense that we think of heaven, the religious person went to 'sleep' and their body was raised when the Messiah returned. Christians in the first century were convinced that Jesus was going to return in their lifetime, they did not think they would die. They believed they Jesus would return to earth and if they died – they would not be there.
The new hope that Paul argued for was that they had a new life in Christ after baptism and that death would make no difference. It was this idea more than the common conception of immortality that was most common when the Bible was written. In this sense the ‘new world’ is already with us. We as Christians should live with our focus on this world. He writes:
“For much the greater part of the biblical period that distinctly Hebraic virtue, hope, was nourished and maintained without any living faith in an after-life. Again, contrary to what is usually supposed, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, properly speaking, finds no place in the Old Testament or the New. Moreover, as we have just said, the early Christian writers centred their hops, not in life after death, but in the new resurrection order of ‘life in Christ’, which they entered at Baptism and to which death could make no difference.”
I find this quite incredible, it seems that the emphasis placed on ‘life after death’ is not an idea that was held in New Testament times and that the current idea of ‘believing in life before death’ is more of a Christian idea than the Marxists would make us believe.
Bishop Robinson continues with this thought writing:
“The Communist conception of ‘the new world’, as something that is coming despite the death of the individual, is at this point nearer to the New Testament, though in treating every generation but the last, and consequently every individual within a generation, as a means to an end, Marxism has a radically sub-Christian doctrine of Man.”