‘God revives the dead – mechayei hametim’ – Among the many challenging phrases in the prayers, this is probably one of the most difficult. Do we or don’t we believe in life after death?
I often reflect on how many possible meanings the sentence contains. Does it refer to literal resurrection? Or does it express how we hold precious in our hearts the love of those no longer with us in this world, so that they, their goodness, their wisdom and their foibles continue to live within us?
Are the words rather a metaphor for the whole rhythm of dying and living, of lives ending and new lives being born? Or might they even be a description of the flow of the years as the seasonal leaf fall, the annual dying of autumn, is succeeded by the unfurling leaves and germinating seeds of spring?
But this morning a different thought passed through my mind. On Sunday I participated in the moving Light up a Life ceremony at the North London Hospice. It opened with the ancient Hindu right of kindling a flame and meditating on the light of compassion. Later, a father spoke with gratitude, as well as pain, about how his son’s final weeks at the hospice were made bright and full of life by the care and love of staff, friends and family.
‘Mechayei hametim: you revive the dead’ – The words are in the present continuous tense; a more unusual, but no less literal, translation might be ‘you bring life to those who are dying’. I thought about the tenderness, love, sorrow, gratitude, humility and gentleness; about the deep sense of service and reverence I have witnessed at the hospice so many times; about how the value of each life and its unique relationships has been protected, and even enhanced, there during so many people’s final days.
Perhaps this, too, is what those words mean.
And I thought also of so many families and their loved ones who parted in that precious, special place.