I ended last month’s thought with the idea of our own impermanence. It is tempting to think that there is a part of us that in and of itself, of its own nature will survive our own dying. When I have said this in the past it has caused some consternation. ‘The vicar does not believe in life after death?’ So let me be clear that is not what I am saying here. I do believe in God’s eternity and I do believe we have a place in God’s eternity. So let me start with eternity, it means outside of time and outside of space, it is God’s eternal ’now’ and presence in all, and beyond all things. The problem is that it is difficult to describe with words. Words have developed to describe things in time, which is finite and space which, on current physics is also finite. How then to describe the infinite? We have to resort to metaphor and poetry. As the poet John Donne put it, with God, ‘there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity...’
So to return to our own mortality, our own impermanence; to say that we are impermanent is not to say we are without hope, but our hope is in God not our own nature. In the Orthodox prayer for the dead we find these words addressed to God:
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of all: and we are mortal, formed from the dust of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so you ordained when you created me, saying: ‘Dust you are and to dust you shall return. All of us go down to the dust, yet weeping at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia’.
And there it is, “yet weeping at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Alleluia meaning Praise the Lord, a word we often associate in the church with the primary Christian festival of Easter and the rising again of Jesus.
The Christian hope, one that can say Alleluia, is founded not on any notion of natural immortality of our own, but on the resurrection of Jesus Christ who, emptied of his immortality, was bom as we are, lived as we are living, died as we shall and was buried and rose again. This is God, participating in our impermanence to the very end. This is God who humbled himself to share in our humanity that we may share in his divinity, “He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God. ’’Our hope as Christians is founded upon the immortal God’s participation in our humanity, by which we are lifted up to share in God’s immortality.
It’s difficult to believe, absurd even, a belief much easier to hold in times past. We shouldn’t imagine that it was easier to believe in the past. The people in Jesus’ time knew just as much as we do that the dead don’t tend to rise again, but it is this absurdity, this proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus, and the invitation to us to participate in that resurrection, to be a part of it, that forms the basis of the earliest Christian preaching. This is why we say, at the end of the Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
When we say, on Easter Sunday “Alleluia, Christ is risen...” we are rejoicing not only in his resurrection but in the hope of our own as well.
Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Alleluia Christ is risen; He is risen indeed, Alleluia. Happy Easter
Vicar’s thoughts for April 2017