Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-2 / Exodus 14:24-31; 15:1 / Isaiah 4:2-6 / Deuteronomy 31:22-30 / Colossians 3:1-4 / Matthew 28:1-7
It is not normally a pleasant thing to have someone tell us that we are dead. As an idiom, "You're dead!," while not meant to be taken quite literally, is certainly intended with hostility. The speaker is warning us of the dire consequences of what we have done, or what we are likely to do. So, too, is it not a joy to hear from another that we are dead to them. Such a claim is meant to be an erasure, a blotting out of who we are, of our very existence, rendering us, at least in emotional impact, as though we never had been. Moreover, while it is never a good thing to hear either of these phrases, or any like them, we might well hope that, after our observance of Lent, on this Vigil when we recall the victory Jesus Christ won over Hell itself, trampling down death by death and bestowing life to those in the tomb, on this night of all nights we would not hear such words.
Yet, after all of the drama of the Paschal Vigil, we hear from St Paul the very words that would otherwise sound of hostility, and yet are meant to be Good News: You are dead. Just what is it about our death that Paul intends for the Colossians, and intends through his message to them also for us, to be a source of hope, joy, and life eternal? How is it that the message not that we will die, but are in fact dead, is placed before us as the glory of the Passover victory of Jesus Christ?
Death, however, is only bad news, is only a threat, if we are not in fact otherwise alive, and alive in a way that answers the deepest desires of our heart. To be reminded of death, that is, requires that we in fact can hear the reminder, indeed need to hear it, so that the life which we do have can blossom in glory, the life we have left behind can remain among the tombs, where it belongs. As Paul tells the Colossians, they are dead not because they are no more, but because their life is hid with Christ in God. They are dead only to this world, only because in the joy of the Easter mystery they have risen with Christ. Indeed, to be alive in Jesus Christ is, in the most fundamental way, not even to be altogether in this world, but to have a common life and a proper communion with the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.
This is why we need to remember that we are dead. The restless dead, ghosts and revenants, are, according to folklore, troubled precisely because, in some sense, they forget, or refuse to admit, that they are in fact dead. In this unhappy failure to mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth, these restless dead are doomed to sorrow and pain, unable to join in communion with those whose life is earthly, save is a terrifying or corrupting way, and yet, because they will not accept their death, unable to enjoy the deeper flourishing that comes from entering into a life beyond the grave.
While we as Christians reject this kind of folklore, it does hold in it an echo of what Paul urged on the Colossians, and what the Church exhorts us to hear this day. Jesus Christ has conquered and glory fills the earth, and we are part of that victory. We, even now, even on this side of the grave, are nonetheless in the saving power of the Redeemer dead to the world, but alive to heaven, alive in Christ, alive to the very mystery of God. To live otherwise, to try to continue to live in communion with the world that has been overcome in our baptism is to continue in a mockery of life, a perpetual state of rejection of all that is our hope and our life. To accept our death, the watery death of baptism, our death to continued sin in penance, and our death to the old man in our holy communion with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is to taste, even now, the glory of our Lord, victor over Death, Hell, and Sin.
Why should we be glad to hear we are dead? Quite simply because it means that when Christ, whose coming is sure, appears before the whole world, we will already be with him, Who is our life, and then we also shall appear with Him in glory.