Fake news is all the rage. Facts are dead; truth is unimportant. We live in an age where ‘Post-truth’ gets the dubious honour of being Oxford Dictionary’s ‘word of the year 2016’!
As followers of Jesus, that’s the water we swim in; that is the culture in which we operate, it is where we spend our time. We are so immersed in our culture, perhaps it’s no wonder it rubs off on us too. Martin Luther King, in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, challenges the leaders of the church to not only stand against prevailing culture, but redefine it. He says “[The early] Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores [the essential characteristics] of society.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in our thinking about death and dying. Many of us bear the marks of loss, living like two parallel lives – a ‘normal’ life and ‘grieving’ life – and we oscillate between the two. On a good day, we spend more time in the so-called normal life, on other days we crawl through the grieving one. Sadly, the temptation for us, swimming in the waters of 21st Century culture, is that we forget our faith is in the empty tomb – the Resurrected One – and we find ourselves grieving like those who have no Hope, grieving like those around us.
I have conducted more funerals this winter than ever and I am left wondering whether the Church should be more of a thermostat on Grief, setting the temperature rather that responding to the culture around us? I am also conscious of our corporate sense of loss in the past weeks and as we remember with those families known to us, as well as those marking the anniversaries of loved ones lost.
Let us remember that, far from what the poem promises, Death is NOT ‘nothing at all’; it is a rude and cruel reminder that our lives are fragile and vulnerable. Daniel Handler writes,
‘we all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things’.
So, this weekend, take a moment to readjust the way you think things. I have just finished Scot McKnight’s helpful book The Heaven Promise. McKnight encourages us to ‘practice resurrection’.
To practice Resurrection means permitting our morning our mid-day our evening and our night to be redefined by Resurrection. Everything having to do with everything we do and everything we are can be swallowed into Resurrection life.
What encourages our faith the most is to turn to Jesus, to face Jesus, to listen to Jesus and to watch Jesus … if you keep reading to the last page of any of the Gospels you will encounter the resurrected Jesus. Stand in the empty tomb with him and face your past, your present, and your future in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus.
For some, trusting will mean being faithful under pressure; for some it will mean disciplining rough edges; for others it will mean waiting, sometimes in pain and sometimes alone. But trusting is a genuine mark of Heaven people.
Let us remind ourselves that we are a pilgrim people, passing through. God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3.11), and in the Resurrection of Jesus He has shown us His plan for the world. We grieve for our loved ones, yes – it is only natural. But we are only parted for a while. In our loss and grief we stand in the Empty Tomb, upon the promise of the resurrection and looking forward with great hope.
Living these truths in a post-truth world changes everything.
It is not wishful thinking, it is power for life, even in the face of death.
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly. And even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP