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Momento mori: “Remember that you must die.”
Today is Ash Wednesday: a day set aside in the Christian tradition to reflect on the inescapable reality of death. But it is also a day that looks ahead to Christ’s death for us, in which all our ends have been taken up and overcome in Him. No one dies alone, but in radical solidarity, Christ has made our suffering and finitude His own so that we, being joined together in death, might also be raised with Him into the fullness of life.
Karl Barth writes, “Momento mori means concretely Momento Domini (remember the Lord)!” We must accept ourselves as we are, which includes the remembrance of our imminent death. But we must also hope in the God who, with us and for us, became human and entered the grave to overcome it. God is the hope of humanity, as Barth continues, Christ “by His dying and rising again is Himself our hope in the face of our dying—God for us where we can no longer be for ourselves” (CD III/4, 594).
God is my beyond, the One whom I meet in death. Death is so terrifying because it does not belong to us, it is an unfathomable nothingness. Yet it is precisely that nothingness which Christ took upon Himself. Thus, death is not a leap into the formless vacuum but into the eternity of God.
Momento mori—remember that you must die! But also, and most of all, Momento Domini—remember Christ, our Lord, who has conquered death!