Sunday, April 15, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter: In the midst of death, we are in life

Opening Sentence
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

Collect of the Day
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 146, 147

Lessons: Exodus 14:5-22, 1 John 1:1-7, John 14:1-7

The last certainty is the certainty of death. It is the one thing of which we can be sure. We may try to forget it, but it will not forget us. Nor can we ever really forget it until we have faced it and come to a decision about it. In the midst of life, we are in death, unless we know that in the midst of death we are in life.

The more we grow in the love of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, the more completely human we become, the more intense must grow our hunger for immortality and our abhorrence of death. The idea that belief in immortality is an ancient doctrine fast losing ground is an exact reversing of the facts, it is a completely modern doctrine which the growth of human personality and its firmer hold on a wider world makes inevitable. It is the human infancy that cries, "How good is human life, the mere living, how fit to employ all the heart and the soul and the senses for ever in joy." It is the fully developed human being who cries, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you."

Faith in eternal life is and must be the logical conclusion--using logic in its fullest human sense--of the instinct of self-preservation. As we grow, so grows that divine discontent that severs us completely from the rest of the animal creation and bids us reach out to fuller and fuller life. We can find endless reasons to justify the instinctive craving, but it is the instinct that sets us reasoning, and unless the world is a fraud, that instinct points to something real by which it can be satisfied.

The shadowy hosts whom Virgil pictured in the underworld, crowding by the river bank and stretching out their hands in longing for the farther shore, held out their hands backward to the life that they had left, not forward to the life which was to come. But as humanity grows, the hands turn around and are stretched out to the future, not back to the past. We become conscious that the most perfect things in life like Love, Beauty, and Truth fall short of perfection. And yet God has given us so much, can we believe that God will not give more?

From the purely intellectual point of view there are many sound philosophical arguments for eternal life. But certainty only comes with certainty about God and God's love. We can never reach the point of victory and triumph over death until we reach the heart of the Father in Jesus Christ, and it is that triumphant certainty that we need not for the future only but for the present. We cannot live in this life aright unless we see it in its true perspective, see it as the foreground of eternity. Apart from that we tend to see all things in a wrong proportion; big things become little and little things become big and we labor for that which is not bread. There is no peace for us as long as we live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is only the tender mercy of our God whereby the Day-spring from on high can visit us to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, only through God's mercy that our human feet can be guided into the paths of peace. Apart from this triumphant certainty life becomes vulgar and sordid. When the shadow of death falls over all the beauty of the world, the hunger for life in us is so strong that it tends to brutalize and drive us to grasp at everything we can get without caring how we get it, and life tends to become a struggle of swine about the trough--a struggle in which there is no tenderness and no mercy.

Unless then life mocks us and has no meaning, the instinct for self-preservation must have its perfect work and must lead to truth, not falsehood. The Christian hypothesis is that life is as good as God revealed in Christ and that behind the Cross there is ever and always the resurrection. And it is only by taking that hypothesis and living life as though it were true, flinging ourselves upon it recklessly in the faith that God keeps the good wine until the last, that we can come to that triumphant certainty which destroys death and makes us sure that in the midst of death we are in life everlasting.

G.A. Studdert-Kennedy

That Where I Am, There You May Also Be