Delivered at Tyndale University College & Seminary Chapel
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5)
February 29, 2004. A leap year. A terrible day in my own life. I had spent the previous week on vacation at a Wilderness Medicine Course – in downtown Toronto. They do call it the concrete jungle. I arrived home from the course on February 29th, and discovered that hours before, my father had unexpectedly died. God was merciful in allowing me to find him, which was far better than if my mother had.
That evening, my mother, brother and myself found ourselves sitting around the kitchen table, surrounded by a group of friends, police and paramedics talking to the coroner. This particular coroner was very personable and explained what would happen next with my fathers body. What caught my attention was how she described the purpose of the coroners office. She said the purpose of a coroner was to ensure that no death went unnoticed.
An important and vital task to be sure. To ensure that anyone who dies is seen and is treated with respect afterwards. That if anything systemic in nature contributed to their death, an inquest is called to try and prevent it in the future.
This is, I think, similar to the mission of the church. We are called to minister to the lost, the hurting, the marginalized… We are called to make sure people are seen and are known. That they know there are known by one who created and loves them. Most importantly however, we bear witness to death. One specific death in particular. And, not just that death, but the overcoming of death. The overcoming of death for all. The church is Christ’s hope for the world. His hands and feet. His prayer and action. His love made visible and his presence made real.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55-57)
Stanley Hauerwas writes:
“…consider how death is reported in the news. Those that produce the news seem to know that we have a morbid desire to know how someone died because, as Tolstoy observed, a passion for finding the “cause” of someone else’s death can be a way of satisfying ourselves that they died accidentally or fortuitously by virtue of special circumstances affecting the one who died (but not me). It seems that we are at once obsessed by death while striving in every way possible to conceal its power over our lives. Accordingly, we ask those charged to care for us when we are ill to do everything they can to get us out of life alive. This is yet another form of self-protection, as it means we then get to blame health care providers for any miseries related to keeping us alive at all costs. Yet the reality of our deaths is hard to repress for a life time.”
It’s not been a kind month for Canada. In early April we lost members of the Humboldt Hockey Team in Saskatchewan in a traffic collision. Two days ago we learned of the devastating attack on pedestrians on Yonge Street. Death isn’t new to me, there’s lots of it when you work in EMS, as I did from 2000-2009. Death is an rude interruption. I remember the first event that really shook me. The first event that sent me looking for the company shrink. I was out with one of those solo paramedics you see driving around in the SUVs. We were dispatched to a car accident. A single vehicle, driven by a young man with his girlfriend beside him. They were driving too fast down a hill and slammed into the corner of a building. Looking at the near lifeless bodies, I was in shock. I don’t know why exactly. Like I said, I’ve seen death before. But this was traumatic. I’ll save you the graphic descriptions, but horrific is a not too exaggerated word. I managed to go to work the next day, but I wasn’t much use.
When I was still in EMS, a frequent questions put to me was “what’s the worse things you’ve ever seen”? I know what they meant, but really? Do they really want to know? Do you want to know what it means to be the stranger who is the last person someone speaks to? The mother holding the dying baby, the suicides, the murders, the executions, the traumas… Do they want to understand the depths of human suffering and misery that exists in the world on a daily basis? I think not. Do you know we used to bury people in our backyards in family plots? Then it moved to cemeteries in town and then some places, to cemeteries out of town. We’ve so sanitized ourselves to the reality that life has a counterpoint called death, that we are uncomfortable even putting a will together.
We get into our patterns and our brains construct models of how we believe the world should work on a daily basis. The floor will stay solid under our feet, the walls will stay up, and the other drivers will stay on their side of the yellow line. These mental models are how we get through life. Even though we know tragedy happens, when it does happen, particularly so close to us, emotions can hit us that don’t normally come up when a similar tragedy seems too distant.
The world will have its own response. But, us, here, in this place, our mission is different. It is in fact, unchanged. Our response is to witness in the best sense of the word. To BE a witness to the violence of this world, to cry the tears, to feel the pain. We are so immune to violence that we don’t always do that. But it’s our job to be witnesses to the suffering of the world and respond to it in love. To show people that this is not how it must be. That there is one who overcame death to show a better way.
If we are disciples of the one who died on the tree, the one who gave up His throne, to come to earth and FEEL (scandalously FEEL) what it means to be human and to suffer, to hurt and love, then we must not turn away from the suffering of others either. Today is the 4th Wednesday in the Easter Season. 4 weeks ago we celebrated the death and resurrection of God’s answer to pain and to tears. Because we have the hope in the one died and rose again to do away with all of it.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4
The world NEEDS to know about Christ. It NEEDS to hear the good news. And it needs to hear from humble, loving Christians. As Billy Graham said “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and our job to love.” It’s our job to love.
In the Gospel of Matthew it says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4”. Blessed in this context could be otherwise translated as “O, the happiness of OR hail to those”. It denotes a privilege bestowed by God or a recipient of divine favour. It’s a proclamation of exaltation. The least shall be first. God is never closer to us then in these time of uncertainty. To “mourn” communicates that they are not mourning for their own sins, but rather because of the power of the wicked, who oppress righteousness.
God is ever so close when we recognize the powers raging against others. It is in these times where we feel helpless to do anything to help, that we must rely on God as He mourns alongside us. It is a gift to us that because of Christ we know the nature and source of these evil powers. The world believes them to be a product of a deranged individual, a sick mind, perhaps a twisted ideology.
In Ephesians St. Paul tells us that the struggle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).
So much are we to engage in this spiritual battle, that we recognize our role is different than the worldly response when dealing with our fellow human beings who have committed evil acts.
Again, we turn to the Gospel of Matthew:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
1 John tells us that “17 If God’s love is made perfect in us, we can be without fear on the day when God judges the world. We will be without fear, because in this world we are like Jesus. 18 Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love takes away fear.
19 We love because God first loved us.” It’s our job to love.
In a public address Pope John Paul II said “We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. **“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”. **
Bob Sweetman, a professor at the Institute for Christian Studies writes:
“Halleluia!” we all sing in Eastertide, and “Halleluia!” we mean. But Christ’s victory does not mean our lives become all larks in the shadow of Death. We may fear no evil, or wish we did, but Death is woven like threads into the very fabric of our existence.
“We are creatures whose beauty, whose original very goodness, is fragile. In and of ourselves, we are mortal. Our harmonies are all bound by time and thus only for a time. Everlasting life is not ours by right, as if by virtue of our constitution. The glory of endless communion to be received in Joy can only come as gift. For Thomas Aquinas, the gift was so huge and unimaginable within the confines of our present existence that he couldn’t even imagine it as Grace. No it had to be an even greater thing: surpassing love wrung from the very heart of Glory. We can put his intuition quite dramatically: But for God’s glorious extravagance we would live with Death woven into our sinews even to the end of the age.”
“There is no way of coming into God’s living triumph except through death. Nevertheless . . . “Halleluia!” We people of faith persist in our witness every Easter that God’s love in Christ refuses to accept that stubborn, last barrier; Christ’s resurrection manifests the potency of this divine refusal. Death is conquered, we sing, warmly, year in and year out.”
“We are indeed an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”.
Everyone together… Alleluia
Please stand for the benediction: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.