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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Death Does Not Have the Final Word

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” That’s a big statement to make when - looking around at the news from the US, or the Middle East, or even our own city - what we actually see seems more like so many things breaking down, falling apart, being destroyed; buildings, understandings, ways of life. 

Just this last week, last Sunday morning to be exact, St. Anne’s, an historic church with Group of Seven paintings adorning its ceiling and walls, a hub of art and music within the city, was burnt to the point that it is likely unusable. And as this was going on, the congregation of St. Anne’s gathered at St. Mary Magdalene's where they heard this reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

As I watched things unfold on social media I read this response from St. Anne’s priest, Fr. Don Beyers: “My friends and loved ones. As you know my church was destroyed by a terrible fire today. It was a national and historical site for Canada. And my heart is broken at th[is] time. Please keep my parish in your prayers. Please pray for me that I can be a good and faithful priest and pastor. I love my community. And with them my heart and soul is broken. But we will rise again. I know for certain.”

In what does his certainty rest? He woke up Monday morning and wrote this: “Early this morning, as the sun began to rise, I heard the sound of birds outside. Although my heart was heavy, the birdsong instilled within me a sense of peace and assurance that life always emerges out of death. In truth, that is the heart of the Christian story. Death never has the final word."

Indeed, death does not have the final word. Think, for a moment, about how the Disciples must have felt after Jesus’s crucifixion. Sadness, confusion, frustration, loss, maybe even despair. Enough, I’ve had enough. The world is a mess of violence, death, destruction, things always falling apart and now the one in whom I have placed all my hopes is dead. How many of you have been here? I work, I struggle, I sacrifice. I am spinning my wheels. I am sad; tired, lonely, I don’t know why I’m here anymore. I don’t know what to do. What’s the point? And yet, death never has the final word. We know that Christ rose on the third day. We know that although it appears that things are falling apart. This is not the final word. If it were, we would be right to just give up and pursue our own good, ignore those who are suffering, and destroy our enemies so they do not get in our way.

But death does not have the final word. We have glimpses of God’s in breaking reality given to us in the Gospels where we see healing of bodies, of attitudes, of hearts and minds and of hope. When we take hold of those signs not just from Scripture - but where we see acts of courage in the face of loss, as with Fr. Don, acts of generosity, in those who have donated time, money, space and energy to support the people of St. Anne’s, where we see acts of support, as when divided churches live into God's holy promise of reconciliation, like the Toronto Catholic Archdiocese praying for sisters and brothers in the Anglican Church, where people’s hearts and minds are lifted from their own business to come to the aid of those in need at their own sacrifice, even in the mundane affairs of parents sacrificing for their children, of one person setting aside their anger, frustration and bitterness to come alongside someone with whom they vehemently disagree, to comfort and offer concrete help.

These acts, my friends, these are the signs of new shoots; these are the signs of new life and new hope, these are signs of awakening, of lifting heads, of being turned from a dry tree to a green tree, a small tree to a large, of opening up opportunities to connect, share, grow and do things in a place, a church, a denomination, a religion, that has been a dry tree. What kind of new life will grow from this? I don’t know.  

What I know from experience is that accepting grace often involves accepting blunt, and sometimes harsh and brutal redirection. It sometimes requires us to accept that things cannot continue as they have. In the case of St. Anne’s - a case like so many instances of destruction in Scripture - being turned over to nation after nation and routed, think of the temple’s destruction, or of Job’s own life, or Paul’s radical encounter with Jesus’s judgement, think of Jesus’s own acceptance of grace - it was death to a life that was so that not just his own, but billions of us might have life. 

It is brutal to experience so much loss and destruction that leads us into cynicism, frustration and despair, especially when we are tired and at the ends of our ropes. This can cause us to get into a habit of interpreting everything around us only through the perspective that what we see or how we feel is all there is. But faith and so motivation that drives hope rests not in what we can see and it isn’t in what we feel.

Instead faith rests on the reality that Jesus Christ has broken into this world of pain and suffering and exhaustion; hope inspires through his Spirit where people through time have taken hold of that new life and become shoots of new life where love takes concrete forms of courage, endurance and support of others, even enemies. From these tiny mustard seeds of faith grow up again and again the tree of life, where the Cross of death is met by God’s resurrected body, us, the Church, where all might find a place of refuge, healing and new life. Amen   

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