Delivered at the Memorial Service for Claude Malone, June 8, 2022, at Whidby Presbyterian Church, Oak Harbor, Washington.
“And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get nervous about death. It’s scary, even though we know our whole lives that it’s coming for us. Maybe because we know our whole lives that it’s coming for us. It’s inevitable. And when you lose both parents within a year of each other, it really brings it home. You and your brother and your sisters are now the oldest generation in your family. Sorry, siblings, but it’s true. And we’re mortal.
I’m fairly ignorant of Presbyterian liturgy, but in the Episcopal tradition, on Ash Wednesday we take out our mortality and look it square in the face. We have ashes smeared on our forehead in the shape of a cross, and we are told “Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It’s pretty heavy stuff. But we also remember that returning to dust is not the end of things. It’s not. There is something after. We don’t have a lot of details about it, but we are told that we will be resurrected. Our dad had an unshakeable faith that he would see our mom again. And he was right. As Christians, this is our hope. This is our promise.
One of the things our traditions – and several others — have in common is the Apostle’s Creed, one of the oldest statements of faith we have outside of the New Testament. In a few minutes we will sing a lovely metrical version of this creed set, I believe, to the tune “Ebenezer.” In the Episcopal church we’re more likely to say this creed or chant it — because that’s how we roll — but in the spoken version of this creed, we claim:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
I think those specific words “resurrection of the body” are important. When we say the Apostle’s Creed, we claim Christ’s promise of “the resurrection of the body.” We do expect a time of “rest and refreshment” after death, and I believe that is what Dad is enjoying now. But St. Paul was very clear on this point: Christ’s physical resurrection was the “down payment” on our own. Our ultimate destiny is to be resurrected just as Christ was resurrected, and to live forever in his new creation. “See, I am making ALL things new.”
“All things” includes us. As Christians, we have been made new. We are being made new. And we will be made new.
Like pretty much everyone else on earth, we all understand that some day we will die. It is our destiny. But unlike some, we have a hope, and a promise.
We will be resurrected. We will be resurrected in the body. That’s the promise. I will be able to take a walk with my Dad. I’ll be able to talk to my Mom. We will be physically present to each other. Our destiny is not some disembodied existence, floating around like ghosts throughout eternity.
No, our destiny is bodies like Christ’s. C.S. Lewis, one of my Dad’s favorite authors, suggested in his short novel The Great Divorce that our transformed bodies would be somehow more real than our current bodies, more solid, not less.
That seems appropriate for a people who are destined to live in a transformed and renewed Creation.
If we believe the promise of the resurrection, that promise that we at least pay lip service to in the Creed, then we believe that we and our loved ones will be resurrected. When Christ returns, we will all be changed to be like he is now. And we will see those we love again. And that is why, even when a loved one — a mother, a father — is taken from us, we can still sing, and laugh, and rejoice.
There is a short canticle in the Episcopal service for the Burial of the Dead that I love
All we go down to the dust,
yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.