Monday, November 07, 2011
The Undiscovered Country
1 John 3: 1-3
It has been a struggle to formulate this message, this week. An All Saints’ sermon is never easy, because so much of what we want to talk about is unknown. Most weeks, we can talk about a parable, or a story from the Hebrew testament, and it’s often true that what happened to them in the story is relatable to us in our time and place. But how do we relate our lives to death and loss? We are, some of us, able to reach into feelings of loss, but none of us truly know what death feels like. It is unrelatable. It is, to quote Shakespeare by way of Star Trek, “The Undiscovered Country”.
I have to think that the author of 1 John does not know what death feels like, either, and what happens after we die, not from a first hand account. His or her writings might be inspired, but they are still suppositions, they are still approximations, they are still guesses. They are honest about that, too. “What we will be has not yet been revealed.”
But I’d like to think they are good guesses. They are based solidly in the faith they were building about 60 years after Jesus’ death, and our belief now, 2000 years later, are informed and built on what they wrote.
I want to believe what they wrote because what they say is that after we die, we become like Jesus. A lifetime of seeking after Jesus’ image, a lifetime of imitating Christ, becomes fulfilled in death. “We will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
For those of us who have suffered the loss of a loved one in death, this is comforting, because this means that the people we have lost have gone on to greater things-they have indeed finished the race.
I have a friend who just ran a marathon two weeks ago, and it brought back to me the goals of running, which I am trying to get back to myself. Those people who run marathons, the vast majority of them anyway, find that the challenge of the marathon is not to come in first, but to finish. They also hope to finish well, in form, and with a decent personal time. It is a personal challenge, a test of strength and discipline, but it is hardly ever a race in which the goal is to finish faster than everyone else.
A life disciplined in God, is the same-we want to be able to run well, we do not need to be the best. We do not need to run perfectly. We can see perfection, we know the goal, but we forgive ourselves for not reaching that goal, and push on doing the best we can. We just want to finish.
We all can remember aspects of our loved ones that approximated Jesus while they lived: caring, kindness, hospitality, self-sacrifice, courage, bravery, wisdom, strength. These aspects of Christ are the ways they ran the race of life with good form. We have our own aspects of Jesus, too. They are harder to see sometimes, because we are still running the race. We are still living.
1 John tells us that in death, our loved ones have become like Christ because they are able to see Christ. Whatever else heaven may be, cherubs playing harps on clouds, or some sort of pearly gate with a lectern out front, or whatever, heaven is the place where we see Jesus clearly. We see God “not through a glass darkly”, but clearly. And the aspects of those people that we miss that resembled Jesus now are highlighted, and the rest have grown. They have become even better images of themselves than they were here. Their beauty is magnified. The pain they felt on earth is taken from them, and though they may still carry scars, though Jesus may still carry his scars, their internal beauty, their physical beauty has become perfect in God’s love.
Once a year, we take the time to remember and recognize as a congregation the ones among us who have died during the past year. We also take the time to remember all of those people who have died in past year in our lives, and we naturally wonder where they are now, what it looks like, what they’re doing. We wonder if they are, now. We don’t know. But our faith tells us that they are in God, and with Christ. That, in the end, has to be enough. We have that hope, and as the author of 1 John says, all who have this hope purify themselves, just as Jesus is pure. Our hope of being with God after death purifies us, and in living life in that hope, we become more like Christ while living.
We begin to wear the clothes and sing the songs of that undiscovered country, even though we’ve never seen it. And this makes us more like Christ.
May we always seek the things of that undiscovered country.