A SERMON PREACHED AT A MEMORIAL MASS - 21.03.18
We’re all aware of the how the astonishing rush of discoveries and applications in the field of technology is affecting every part of our lives: smart phones, the web, robotics and driverless cars etc. But I wonder if you would agree with me that it has impacted even on our subconscious lives too, and in a way that makes belief in the non-physical, non-observable, more challenging. And because it is a matter of the subconscious, we may be largely unaware of what is happening to us.
So today, as we think and pray about Margaret’s life and death, the question arises, “What does the Apostles’ Creed mean when it asks us to believe in the “resurrection of the body ?” Is this really credible ? After all it does sound like the fanciful reflections of a primitive people seeking to explain the meaning of their lives. Well, there are two things (among various others) significant for me personally, which I’d like to share with you.
· First, the Middle Eastern word of 2,000 years ago that has been translated into English as “body”, does not have that meaning. (Hardly surprising since originally this belief was probably spoken in Aramaic and the earliest written text we have is in Greek. In the 5th century St. Jerome translated the whole Bible into Latin which had become the lingua franca of the Mediterranean region. And finally, after 1500 years it was translated into English at the reformation). So you may well ask me how would I translate it. I would say the English word somebody comes nearer to it: not a fleshly body, or a corpse, but essentially a PERSON, still alive, still loving, still communicating: with God and with us ! So it might be more helpful, more faithful to the original to say in English, we believe in ”the resurrection of the person”.
· Secondly, I can’t ignore what science tells us: that every seven years or so the atoms of our body have all changed, and what we were atomically in our youth, is now part of the seas, the birds and the trees – perhaps even part of someone else ! So if someone still insists that the Creed is talking only about the physical fleshly body, I would have to ask: “then who now is the real Margaret ? “ And for that matter, who is the real ‘you’ and the real ‘me’ ?
Scripture calls to me again, and I listen intrigued, to St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
“If there is a natural body, there is a spiritual body too . . . . And as we have been born with the likeness of the earthly man, so we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly one. (I Cor 15, 45; 49).
So two “bodies” ? Yes, we have two bodies !
After this insight I look at others with new interest: you can actually see both these bodies in people: while the earthly body peaks, then declines and returns to the earth, the spiritual one can grow stronger right to the end. And it lives on, because that complex pattern of memories, aspirations, decisions and actions which make up a character, are carried for a time by the atoms of the body, but are also held in the Cloud of God’s being. Everything that has turned to love in our lives is stored up in the memory of God.
Just look at Margaret’s life ! She secured a job at a firm where she had many workmates, one of whom was Jack, its widowed founder. Jack saw in her a goodness, and from being his workmate, she married him and became his soulmate. That transition from workmate to soulmate sums up well what I have been saying about the growth of the spiritual body ! She gave Jack support and happiness during his final years. At her late age she even learned to play golf to be able to share with and support him; she committed herself as a loving member of Jack’s entire family, and came to mean much to the children and grandchildren. What greater calling can there be than that of soulmate to another, to give your entire life for the benefit of the other ? Yes, her heavenly body never ceased growing strongly right to the end, even though her earthly one is no longer.
You know we are not supposed to depart from these occasions empty handed ! So, what can we take with us from this celebration today ?
· I would hope a renewed awareness of our spiritual bodies and how we need to nurture them, containing as they do the vital seeds of our everlasting destiny.
· And then the quiet joy of knowing that Margaret has begun her risen eternal life, beside which her life on earth has been less than the smallest grain of sand; that in fact her life, far from ending, has just begun !
May Almighty God grant her eternal life with him.
And may she rest in peace. AMEN