Truman Capote, an avowed secularist, once wrote that he heard voices coming from other rooms, meaning that he was beginning to perceive realities greater than the one in which he lived. St. Paul, quite a lot different from Mr. Capote, once said that if we only hope for this life, we are to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). In other words, there is more!
The Epiphany Elders group, a community of men and women who meet regularly to discuss aging, the second half of life, and how faith informs life recently invited me to visit them to speak about, wait for it: resurrection! Big topic. We traced some of its scriptural bases in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, but quickly turned to what we each believe. I confessed that any number of preachers, myself included, have committed the heresy of preaching Easter sermons that equate resurrection with heaven. You know the type: “Because Jesus lives we are all going to heaven, and what a day of rejoicing it will be!”
Well, that was like a quarter in a juke box for me, and before long I was prattling on about the glory of the Prayer Book’s burial rites, and how I prefer the phraseology of its title, “Burial of the Dead” rather than the more culturally popular (and I think somewhat vapid) words, “celebration of life.” Every good funeral is a celebration of life, and there’s no need to avoid the words death or burial. We’re not gnostics who declare the “body bad” and the “soul good.” Body and soul—together—are good because God made us, Christ redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit guides us.
The Prayer Book’s burial service—a typical Episcopal funeral—expresses so much hope! We believe that the next life is full of hope, and the words in that rite declare that whatever the next life is it will be rooted in God’s goodness. We even proclaim that in the next life there shall be a dynamic in which we might go from strength to strength. C.S. Lewis, when he spoke about the next life, put it this way: “If it’s not true, then something better will be.”
For me, whatever is beyond this life has to be related to the here and now. My faithfulness is dependent upon building a foundation on Jesus Christ. The questions I ask myself include: “Is my life reflecting as much of Christ’s life as possible? How am I asking you and other companions to help me?” Whenever I wonder what eternal life with God will look like I’m reminded of my silliness in indulging such a notion. Eternal life doesn’t start sometime or at some place. It includes all time and all places. To see eternal life is to take a deep breath right now, and to look around. Surely this life is part of eternal life!
Lesley McCloghrie is a friend and a priest. She grew up in England, and is now retired in Northern California. Years ago, over a festive Eastertide lunch in the Big Four Restaurant on Nob Hill in San Francisco, I was speaking about the previous Easter Sunday, and how glorious it had been. Lesley said, “Thomas it’s not Easter Sunday, it’s Easter Day. Remember that Easter is every Sunday, and that Eastertide is 50 whole days!”
Lesley’s right, and we’re now just two weeks into this wondrous season. Your church, along with every other Christian community, will keep proclaiming, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen” not because we’ve mixed up resurrection with heaven. We’ll keep singing “Alleluia” because of our ongoing responsibility to bring new life to others, going from strength to strength.