Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What happens when we die?

Questions from our Culture: Final Week Recap
The Science fiction series Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) spoke about many of the issues of faith that people in our time are wresting with.  It did this by taking elements of  different faiths and dividing them up between the different characters of the drama.  In no way do the religions of the show completely conform to an actual human belief system, but they do have ideas in common with contemporary and even historical faith communities.  The result is fascinating portrayal of a life in a universe with competing religious ideas. We are using this portrayal at Holy Cross to engage some of life's most important questions.  These are not only found on TV but in the Bible itself.  Even better, the Bible begins to lead us to some answers to these life changing questions.

I was there...
Our final scene from Battlestar Gallactica depicts  the female lead Laura Roslin in dialog with a fellow cancer patient about the afterlife.  Her friend is telling her story of a vision she had of the next life.  Roslin is skeptical choosing to only believe what she can concretely experience while lucid and in her right mind.  Her  friend Emily is adamant, she was there in the border between this world and the next.   She will recount a number of important points.   First she was scared, but at the same time there was an assuring voice in her ear that said "I am with you."   Second,  she recounts the words of the recurring character Gaius Baltar, when she says that there is more to this world then what we can see with our eyes.   Finally she saw on the far bank of the river those whom she had lost of her family and friends.  She was comforted by this vision but was insistent that this vision gives a complete accounting of reality.   The scene shows two women, one open to the next world another skeptical, working out their questions in a meaningful conversation.  The question about what happens when we die is clearly found in the Bible in a number of places and the promises portrayed in this hospital room conversation are some of the same promised by God in Scripture. 

I am with you...

Emily's anxiety about her vision is calmed with a voice stating that he is with her.  Being assured the presence of the Divine through life and death is one of the central promises of Jesus Christ.  This coming Sunday churches around the world will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, where God's presence was poured out for every land and nation.   Jesus promises in the Great Commission that he will be with us until the end of the aeon.   In the final book of the Bible, the key promise of the reconciliation and final healing of the world is the complete presence of God experienced fully by His people.   "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  (Revelation 21:3 NRSV).  A look into the original language of John of Patmos' vision will reveal that the word used for home in the above verse is σκην, which literally means "tent."   So Revelation shows an image of a reconciled New Jerusalem where God is not in a temple but camping out with those whom He loves.  It is an image of God's intimate presence with us that shows that his being with us is the first solution of all of our genuine needs.  

There is something (or someone) beyond this world...  

God's presence is our most profound need because unlike us, he has no limitations.   He is the one who is not bound by space, time, laws of physics, or conventions.  He is the only one who can free us from the bondages that we face.  John of Patmos writes again: Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.  (Revelation 21:6 NRSV)  The letters Alpha and Omega are the first and last  letters of the Greek alphabet.   So Revelation is saying that God is A-Z,  all that is in between, and even more. The God of Jesus Christ is more than we can fathom. The God who works salvation through history is the God who is beyond anything history can describe.  This power is necessary because Scripture tells us that the Lord will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."  (Revelation 21:4 NRSV)  Death, pain, grief and loss may ensnare us, but they have no power over the Alpha and Omega who is at the head of all things. 

 A Communion of Saints...

The most moving aspect of the scene between the two cancer patients in Battlestar Gallactica is how it shows Emily having a vision of being in a reunited communion with her loved ones.  Her parents, children and all who had died before her are re-united in a new community.  This same hope is made explicit by Jesus as he prepares to go to the cross on the night in which he was betrayed.  In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. (John 14:2 NRSV) The vision of the resurrected life is not just one of you in relation to God it is you with others in relation to God.  We become part of the resurrected community of God.

The other component of this is one of the chief images of an afterlife given in the Bible.   It is the idea of the great heavenly feast.   We first learn of it in Isaiah, and Jesus uses it as his primary teaching image of the coming Reign of God. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.  (Luke 13:29 NRSV)  The redeemed gather for fellowship around God's table.  This image is one the reasons I advocate regular celebration of the Lord's supper, it as as said a "foretaste of the feast to come."

An Invitation... 

I have always found it comforting that the Bible uses images like those discussed above.   I find that images are often more inclusive than definitions or a list of requirements.  I can relate my common life experiences to images,  they give me touch points with God's Word.  When the Bible says God camped out, I think of my own camping trips.  When heaven is described as a feast or party, I have wonderful images in my mind of fellowship with friends and loved ones.   I believe the Bible uses images to make coming to God more inviting.

The answer to the question of what happens when die is clear according to the Bible.  The answer is resurrection.   However, I do believe we need to be open it.  In this week's scene we saw two people one with an experience of life after death who was clearly open to the possibility, and one who was struggling to understand.  The saddest for me are those who close themselves off to the possibility, not only those who reject God, but perhaps those of us who nominally acknowledge God, but become absorbed in our own stuff to the point where we are unable to see the images that God provides us.  They miss out on the hope to come closer to him to live the abundant life in this world and the next. However, all we need to do is look up out of our junk and see the vision of God that is revealed through his Word of Jesus calling us back to God and himself.   The invitation to life eternal is there, we just need to respond, and to me that is indeed a comforting thought.

This is the final installment of this series:   This summer we will be working with two themes:  "Thriving in a mixed up world"  based on readings from the Gospel of Mark, and "A life rebuilt by Jesus," which uses texts from Ephesians.   Please be in prayer that we can come closer to our Lord through the proclamation and study of his Word. 

Keep the Faith, 
Pastor Knecht

No comments:

Post a Comment