Monday, August 24, 2009

The Enigma of Everlasting Eternal Life

I've been thinking a lot lately about the words of the Nicene and Apostle's Creed. Mostly, I have been contemplating those last two lines about the "resurrection of the body" and the "life everlasting". What occurred to me is how for most of my life, and I imagine this is true for many, I have believed those words were about Christ only, and had nothing more to do with me than a simple reciting of what are the core beliefs that make me Christian in the Episcopal tradition.

And it is true that those words are the conclusion, the summation, of our belief in God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit. But my partner read a commentary out of her Torah to me that I think speaks to the often-unspoken truth of the resurrection: God resurrects the dead... which is not just the physically dead, but those who might be wandering through the world as the "spiritually dead". And, after God has resurrected these dead, there is the promise of the "life of the world to come."

That's what I'm interested in. "Life of the world to come" leaves one believing that it's all about the after-life. Whatever we're doing here is just the preparation for the next life. And that's when we'll enjoy this wonderful "eternal life" that the priests keep talking about. This life is the life where we toil, and stumble, and keep "doing good stuff" so we can get the gold stars and earn our way into heaven.


This is one of those areas where I'm wondering, "How come the Church doesn't make this more clear?" Eternal life is the everlasting life of the RIGHT NOW. It is the life we gain in Christ, those of us who are Christians. This is a key and important message that I found so amazingly liberating when it first started sinking in two years ago. Imagine how different it is to think that the moment you wake up, you are fully alive... and you have the life you have for the whole day until you go to bed at night in the hope that tomorrow, you'll wake up again. This is different than promising that you are going to have a full bank account when you wake up in the morning, or that your debt has been canceled. Or that you will go to work and have a banner day. But you do have your breath, and the gift from God of a chance to do something with the life you have for this one day, each moment in the day. For me, this is a much better way to start off living life than to be thinking about what I don't have. Focusing on the void means the void becomes the only thing I see. And when that happens, where is God in the mix? And God's a jealous God: I understand that to mean, "I'm not sharing time with 'the void'!" God really is like a Leo: it's all about God!

Once eternal life started to make sense... suddenly, lots of the words in our liturgy became clearer. The whole notion in the Lord's Prayer about "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means that the kingdom of God is not some far off fantasy land, but is present in our world now. As I told my good friend, King the Jehovah's Witness, the kingdom is now. I don't have to wait; all I have to do is look and see the magnificent creation in a tree, a rose bush, a mountain, a river. This is the handiwork of God for which we give thanks in our Prayers of the People every week. And it is here, now, for our enjoyment... our nourishment... and our care. The curtain has been pulled back to reveal all this to us and to see that we are part of a plan for life.

If there is going to be an enigma in any of this, I would think it should be a question of "If all this is for us, could there still be more?" And to my mind, that would lead to the wonderment about what happens when we die. Few have ever been there, and come back to give us a full accounting. And, in some ways, it would probably be best if we don't dive into that pool. If we were to know what's beyond our days on earth... wouldn't that come close to eating the apple in the Garden of Eden? I can be OK with this ambiguity, this uncertainty. I figure I'll know soon enough what happens to us after we die, and I would imagine it starts with us no longer being an "us" anymore.

For now, let's start with accepting the life we have right now in Christ. A life that can rise above death, doom, despair, whatever-it-is that keeps us from accepting eternal life as a present state of being in the world.


Phoebe said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

My dear, another great sermonette from my girl. Thank you, honey.


SCG said...

Glad this one met with approval!