A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
On Life and Death and Meaning
March 30, 2003
Lent 4 John 6:4-15
During the week I watched the movie The Hours and was completely captivated. This is a movie which asked universal questions about life, death, love and meaning. The interconnections of three women's lives in the course of a century reminded me that the human questions of existence in the face of tragedy do not change greatly.
There was a wonderful moment when Leonard was talking to his wife Virginia Woolf about the book she was writing. Virginia was struggling to work out which of her characters would die. He asked her, "Why does someone have to die?" Her answer could be a theme for the church at Easter time; "Someone has to die, so that the rest of us will value life."
Death is inevitable, always tragic, yet finds its meaning in driving those left behind to value life more dearly. As we approach the memorial of the tragic and unnecessary execution of Jesus at the hands of political tyrants, we search again for meaning. As we come to terms with our sadness at losing Les and Michael and so many others, we search for purpose in their suffering and in our sadness. As we watch news reports of the phony war in Iraq, the senseless and tragic death of children and other innocents, we wrestle with the ultimate question of existence. Why innocent suffering? Why tyrants who seem to hold all the power? Why God, why?
Then Almitra spoke, saying, "We would ask now of Death." And he said: You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
Into the most hopeless of all situations, the Christian gospel offers the wonderful message that resurrection is an ever present reality. Just don't be looking for any empty tomb. That is the place of the dead. Look rather in the heart of life in the places where you find your passion for living invigorated.
In our readings this morning, the Hebrew lesson has the homeless Israelites asking the ultimate existential question of their God; "Why have you brought us to death, and why here in the wilderness?" Astonishingly, in the story it is the serpent, the snake of death, which is held up literally as the sign of life. The Epistle reads like maybe Paul had just a bit of the French philosopher in him. It speaks of the meaninglessness of following the desires of the flesh, yet says that the experience of being alive in Christ is found in the midst of death. The Gospel offers one of the most hopeful of all sacred texts. It has God showing God's love by offering eternal life and endless possibilities in the inspiration of the life and death of Jesus.
The current war is like all wars, and like The Hours. The players change, the moments pass, the context shifts, but the reality of unnecessary death and tyrants rear their ugly heads with regularity. Pontius Pilate, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, George Bush. Four men separated by the Hours, playing out the same tragedy. These are the men of death, who create for us the question of purpose and meaning. Why God, why then, why now, why the children, why the innocents?
Why? To inspire those left behind, those who will pick up the pieces to value life more dearly. Resurrection. Where do we find our resurrection signs; in the life and death of those other players, so often the victims; Jesus Christ, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, all those who resist evil where they see it.
We will celebrate this Easter most likely with the images of war still filling our hearts and minds. This will make it easy to recapture the futility, the tragedy, the suffering of the first Easter. Oh, that we might catch a glimpse of the resurrection of that story in our lives now and in the world at war. At Easter, as in the deaths of loves ones, as in the innocent loss of lives in Iraq, we search for meaning in the unity of life and death. We look in the heart of life.