Bishop Keith Ackerman continues our series of twelve meditations on the doctrines of the Creed in preparation for our Christ our Future celebration on June 10th
THOSE CHILLING words conjure up many images, and yet our society has made death less than real. We use euphemisms to “soften” the reality of death. “He passed away…”, “He’s ceased to breath…”, “She has expired…”, all seem humorous when we are not dealing with death personally. Even our way of “showing the body” can seem odd, and the Funeral Homes themselves can capitalize on the sense of loss and grief. And yet, the irony is that, if we do not accept the reality of death we can suffer serious consequences. To some extent -like it or not, a great deal of the grief involves an articulated or inarticulated doubt that there is anything after death
Far too many, including Christians, do not believe in what the world calls an “after life”. Even that term is devoid of any Christian concept of death. St. Paul is rather clear as he consoles Christians who are beginning to have some doubts. In 1st Corinthians 15, he gives us a natural agricultural symbol of “grain falling” in order to give us a visible image. In Romans 6: 5, he once again makes it clear that for the Christian it is impossible to speak of death without making reference to Christ’s own death and resurrection. To put it differently, if there were a word to describe the Christian experience in Christ, it would have to include three phases: life, death, eternal life; for each is related to the other.
Today we continue to be faced with people who, when they themselves cannot explain a mystery, they deny its existence. Apart from the arrogance of this manner of operating, we are faced with a spiritual and theological dilemma. If there is no life after death, and our destinies are intimately dependent upon Jesus Christ’s saving events, then perhaps, Jesus himself did not rise from the dead. One need not look too far to find this old heresy being reiterated, but in the final analysis, a Christianity devoid of hope and devoid of historical truth is a Religion that is reduced to a “feel good” behaviour. Without a belief in Christ’s death and Resurrection and God’s Judgment, we become masters of our own destiny, for if Christ has not Risen from the dead, and He is not true to His promises, then we are left with reshaping a society on our own terms rather than His, for without Eternal Life we attempt to create our own version of “Heaven and Earth”.
Simply put, not only are we not masters of our own destiny, we are not the “saviours” of society. The only Saviour is Jesus Christ, and He has already paid the price for an arrogant, self-centred society. He died! He did not “pass away”! He did not “cease to breathe”! He did not “expire”! He died and paid the price for our sins. We are, as St. Paul tells us, “in union with Christ…”. We have imitated his death. But our hope is in Christ, “for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive…”
Keith Ackerman is the Bishop of Quincy, in the United States.