There is no certainty about much of our lives
As a hospital chaplain I am confronted with illness, fragility, pain and death. Most young people, indeed, people in their 30s, 40s, even 50s don't give a thought to death or dying, that is unless they have seen it close up through the death or serious illness of a relative or close friend. Or they themselves have been struck down by a life-threatening illness.
When my father died a friend mentioned to me about the finality of death. Most things in life can be fixed, ameliorated, something can be done about the situation. But death is the end of the line. Or is it? In one sense it is never the time to die. But nobody escapes it. I remember the morning my mother died, walking out of the hospital saying to myself that if there were people who avoided death then I would be annoyed and angry, but nobody can escape death.
We read and see about death everyday but somehow or other it passes over our heads. Last week there were explicit and vivid images of people, including young children being slaughtered in Syria. The world was alarmed and outraged. The Syrian government was accused of using chemical weapons against innocent civilians. But it is so easy for us to change channel and simply distance ourselves from the horror of such situations. It is only when it is close to us, when someone we know or love dies that the tragedy of it cuts through our being.
Why are some people cut down at an early age, while others breeze through life without a pain? What do you say to a school boy who has been diagnosed with a serious illness? And after death? There is that stock-in-trade reply that nobody has ever come back from the dead to tell us what happens. What about Jesus of Nazareth?
There are days, and nights too, when I consider any idea of an afterlife preposterous. And then when I visit the grave of my parents I find myself utterly convinced that they have not been annihilated and that they are, in some sort of mysterious communion, with one another and God. Is that crazy thinking? Is it some sort of escape route so that I can feel better about the fate of my parents? Does it help me avoid the finality of death?
In so many ways the idea of eternity is beyond my pay-grade. I was born into the Christian faith, I'm a child of my environment, I doubt, doubt every day, but also I believe, and my overriding conviction, my faith, is in resurrection from the dead. And that's what we'll be celebrating on Sunday, new life in the Risen Lord. Yes, it's an enormous leap, a mystery but I'm inclined to go with it.
Next Sunday is Easter Sunday, the central feast of the Christian calendar. It's the day when we say that we affirm our belief in the resurrection. The entire Christian belief system centres around the idea that there is life beyond the grave. And, as St Paul says, if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain.
We are born to die and we die to live. Certainty about anything can so often leave us falling flat on our face. Personally, I'm always nervous of people who express certitude about anything. There are too many curves and bends on the road of life that makes it far too glib to know it all. I hesitatingly, falteringly too, believe in life, life with Christ, all the time hoping in resurrection.