This essay is Part 2 of 4 in the series “Wondering about the Resurrection”
Looking out my office window I noticed a crowd of camo-clad men and women assembling about thirty feet or so from me. Who on earth were these people and what did they want?
Eventually it dawned on me that they were gathering around a freshly dug grave.
I should explain. The Bishop’s Offices sit in the midst of the historic Mount Olivet Cemetery. There was once an Episcopal church of that name here. These days the old parish house serves as the diocesan headquarters, and the little church is the Bishop’s Chapel. As you may know, I’m the current bishop.
Someone on my staff usually receives advance notice that a burial is going to take place in the old graveyard. Only, this time, the word didn’t get to us. So we were all caught by surprise.
Had I expected an interment that day, I would still have been puzzled by how those in attendance had dressed. Even here in the Bible Belt mourners don’t wear black to funerals so much anymore. But an entire congregation clad in camouflage gear is something I had not seen before.
It took a few minutes for me to realize that the choice of clothes served as a tribute to a much-loved and now mourned family member and friend. Like lots of people here in Louisiana, this fellow was an avid duck hunter. These men and women had donned their camo as a way of celebrating this old boy’s life.
A couple of weeks later the freshly carved headstone arrived. It bears the image of a man in a duck blind. His shotgun is raised and aimed at ducks flying overhead.
The message seems to be that their departed friend, father, husband was now in Heaven. And Heaven is a place beyond all the sorrows and the suffering of this life. A place where, for all eternity, he will be free to do all those things that gave him joy forever untroubled by the world’s pain, toil, and worry.
Belief in life after this life is a central part of the Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus invites and encourages us to trust that life is eternal. In death life is changed, not ended.
Many of us have learned to think of the change from this life to eternal life as a sort of spiritual relocation. We go to Heaven and leave earth behind. But Jesus actually taught us that eternal life begins when the risen Jesus takes up residence in our day to day life.
His presence—his love for us and our love for him—changes the governing algorithm of our ordinary existence. Gradually, Jesus’s influence on us changes the very essence of our lives. We begin walking this planet in a different way. A God-soaked, love-propelled way. Christ’s love imparts to us a life that the grave cannot contain. Bit by partial bit.
On the night before he was crucified, Jesus spent a long time telling his friends about his impending death and his resurrection. At the center of that conversation Jesus shared an extended teaching about the Holy Spirit. (John 13-17)
He crystallized the entire teaching with these words: “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” (John 14:28) Put simply, the resurrection is not merely Jesus emerging from the tomb on the third day. In John’s account, Jesus tells us that the resurrection continues in the coming of the Holy Spirit into the midst of our earthly lives.
Here’s what the Holy Spirit does: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) In other words, the Holy Spirit dwells within us as a guide and a mentor. The risen Christ continues to teach us how to live.
Life is hard, complicated, and frequently baffling. Jesus had told us that we have just one job: love one another as he has loved us. Only, that’s not exactly the easiest job in the world. Figuring out just what love looks like in all of life’s varied and complex circumstances is challenging.
Jesus not only set the example for us during his earthly pilgrimage. He continues to coach us from within the depths of our own hearts and from the lips and examples of our fellow travelers on the Way of Christ.
The risen Jesus does not always, or even most often, show us what to do. He teaches us how to do it. He reminds us again and again to do what we do with love.
When we love, we are joined at the hip with the risen Jesus. Even when we’re clueless and boneheaded, the risen Jesus is at work in us. Drawing us into his own life. The eternal way of life.
Like those camouflaged mourners, I know the weight of grief and take comfort in the resurrection. But my comfort does not derive so much from the prospect of going to a better place after my EEG goes flat. Instead, I derive solace, strength, and hope from the awareness that Christ abides with me every place I go.