Our Christian Hope – The Rev. Jim Stickney
In our memorial service for Talbot Richardson, we’ve listened to sacred readings
that he would have known well. And we’re singing some of the hymns
that he loved to sing — both in the congregation, and in church choirs.
And at the reception that follows this service, we’ll keep singing,
as well as sharing our memories of this faithful servant of God.
We’re at the place in our memorial service when the celebrant is expected
to make some reflection about the death of one who embraced the Christian faith.
As you might suspect, I’ve done this kind of reflection many times.
And after a long succession of such reflections, I find it all comes to one theme:
Our Christian Hope
I came across this theme, this “title” for my funeral homily,
from the Book of Common Prayer — a section called “An Outline of the Faith,”
also know as The Catechism. Following the various sections
that summarize the teachings, beliefs and practices of our church, the final chapter,
Our Christian Hope, considers a Christian’s life beyond the death of the body.
It’s no surprise that the central teaching is this: we believe that Talbot is now sharing
in the resurrected life of Christ Jesus. But this emphasis on Resurrection
does represent a somewhat subtle shift from an over-emphasis on the Cross
as the central mission of Jesus Christ on earth. Christ redeems us — yes —
but above all Christ gives us a share in his risen life — eternal life — with God.
So when we show up to attend a funeral, a Memorial Service, it is also a time
when we contemplate our mortality and consider what will follow our own deaths.
To put it succinctly, where Talbot has gone, we will all surely go.
I’ve found that at any gathering such as we have here this afternoon,
we will have a great range of beliefs concerning death and the next life.
These beliefs range all the way, from fervent belief that we’ll meet God after death,
through a spectrum of doubts and hopes that death is not our final chapter,
to a profound skepticism that says, in short, that death is the final end to our story.
I want to assure you that I’m not trying to convince anyone to change their mind
right here and now. Resurrection cannot be proved — nor can it be disproved.
After all, the most important realities in our human existence —
why we love someone, why we undertake some astounding challenges in life,
why we endure hardships in pursuit of a dimly perceived goal —
none of these things can be subject to the scientific method. These human realities
cannot be tested by repeated experiments. There’s no “control group.”
The most I would venture to say is that it’s possible to have a reasonable hope
that life continues after the death of the body — although in a new form.
In the absence of intellectual proof, we find ourselves in the realm of metaphors —
and in the case of deep human love, of poetry and music and visual art.
Both Jesus and St. Paul employ the image of the seed. In John’s Gospel (12: 24)
Jesus gives this image: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat
falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.
But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
In a letter to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul develops this “seed” metaphor.
“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed….
So it will be at the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable —
it is raised imperishable. It is sown in weakness — it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body — it is raised a spiritual body.”
These metaphors are not proofs. But they do make a reasonable connection
from things that we see and know — to things we cannot see and cannot know for now.
So this afternoon, when we join in prayers for our brother Talbot,
we have a reasonable hope that he is now sharing the risen life of Christ Jesus.
And these prayers of ours are also made in anticipation that we too may share
in that fuller and richer life — beyond the death of the physical body —
where we are united with all those who have gone before us
to share in the heavenly feast — prefigured here in the sacrament of the altar.
May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.