Saturday, November 24, 2012

In the Lord Your Labor Is Not in Vain

Yesterday, we said good-bye and farewell to Father Lee Graham, Jr.  I was honored that my friend had asked that I be one of the lectors at his funeral.  I hadn't dared put in a request to participate, figuring that with all the people who have ever felt close to him, there would be a line a half-mile long of folks who would want to be chalice bearers, lectors, ushers, pall bearers, altar guild members to serve one last time along this servant of God.  So, when I learned that he had put it into his notes on his funeral plan to have me read, I cried.  Again.

And then I read the passage he had selected for me to read, 1 Corinthians 15: 51-58.  And I cried.  Yet again.  All the Scriptural selections he made were a beautiful combination that sounded so much like him preaching one last homily for all of us.  And I definitely felt the words he had chosen for me to communicate to the very large congregation were picked with a purpose.  And so, in honor of Fr. Lee, I thought I'd take us through this particular set of verses, as I understand them in light of my theology as of November 24, 2012:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

This is some mystery, isn't it?  A mystery which speaks to many kinds of life and death.  But I'll just stick with the death of the physical body.  It may seem the person is "dead", but the inhabitant of that body, that inner spirit that once animated the body our senses know as "the person", is not "dead" but it has changed and assumed a new unseen and unknow to those of us in this world.  That person has "changed".  And those of us left behind to mourn the physical death have also changed because we mourn the absense and presensce of that person we perceived through their perishable body.  This is a mystery of energy, and understanding the difference between the physical and the energetic (spiritual) body.  Let's continue...

For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

For those who do believe that life continues beyond this life we know on planet earth, and that there are dimensions of life that are the places of the saints (or the ancestors, in some customs), then this riddle-like statement put forth by St. Paul makes sense.  Once the spiritual body has put on a new existence that isn't the perishable body where it lived and moved and had its being with us, then it rejoices in the experience of new life, life that is bigger and brighter than where it has been before.  Don't let this be confused with "eternal or everlasting life."  That, too, exists in a bigger and brighter form in that realm that is beyond us.  But, according to my theology of November 24, 2012, we are capable of experiencing eternal and everlasting life now if we will yield to God and allow God, not our own petty egos, to be the center of our existence.

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because, for those who do believe in life beyond this realm, death of a physical body does not have the final victory over our spiritual selves.  Because, for those who do believe that there is something more, we have seen an example of this victory in the story of Jesus, who claims new life in the resurrection.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

This, I believe, was the statement that Fr. Lee intended for me, and others, to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.  A man who knew his Scriptural teachings backwards, forwards and sideways, and had them in his heart as he pursued the most unpopular and difficult paths for justice in his time and until his death.  This was the part of the passage that made me bawl each time I practiced my reading.  The thought that all that we do in this life to make things better for everyone does not end when our physical body ceases to exist, and that as long as we are in this life, we are to be striving to look out for those who have not experienced the liberating love of Love.  That is the task before each of us who seeks to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. 

Thanks be to God for having given me a chance to learn from a teacher like Father Lee Graham, Jr.  He has left an indelible mark on my spirit.


phoebe McFarlin said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful and beautifully explained.