When I was told that Lorna’s husband Wallace had died and that Lorna would be with us today I was sorely tempted to bin the sermon I had already written and write another but then decided to go ahead with a small re-write because of the central nature of its subject matter.
By far the most interesting of those two readings is the one from Hebrews. Even though I don’t believe in the prescription to the problem offered by the author of Hebrews ( a prescription that fits the Jewish mind set of the day and fits into their cultural context) the diagnosis of the problem is as sound as it is universal.
The human problem identified by Hebrews is death – or more properly the fear of death where death is seen as oblivion. He plainly regards the Jesus event in these terms when he writes that through Jesus he has “freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”
Death and the fear of death sits in the gut of most of us. We don’t pay it much attention most of the time, it only really surfaces when someone close dies or we ourselves stare death in the face, and even then most of us are desperate to push it back into the back of our minds once the crisis is over, where it just sits there brooding, and affecting our life and our happiness at the more dangerous subconscious level.
This year since Alex’s death I was determined not to push it away but face death and look it in the eye, however painful it might be. There are many different levels of perception, but this year I have through encounter with meditation and spiritual teachings beyond the bounds of the church been enabled to touch a deeper reality, sometimes only fleetingly, and see death on a more philosophical level .
On the surface, in the common understanding death is annihilation, and certainly the pain of separation and loneliness burns, and that pain will burn no matter what you believe – after all even Jesus cried when Lazarus, his friend died. But at a deeper level, both birth and death are illusions.
The first law of physics is that nothing can be created and nothing can be destroyed. This means there is exactly the same amount of matter, or stuff, in the universe now as there was at the time of the big bang. Not one ounce has been added and not one ounce has been taken away ever since. Universes have been created and destroyed – millions of people have lived and died – empires have risen and have fallen, but through it all not one thing extra has been added and not one ounce taken away from the universe. Think about that for a second. Where does this leave our notions of birth, of something new being created and death where something is obliterated and enters oblivion.
Neither can be true. On a deeper level of perception birth and death are illusions. We don’t come from nothing and go to nothing, we come from something and go to something else. Nothing can be created and nothing can be destroyed.
You have heard me draw an analogy with waves on the sea before now, and have used other analogies like our living in God as like a fish lives in the water. Well I was listening to a great spiritual teacher on Thursday who drew another picture. He challenged the listener to ask themselves a question, “Can a cloud die?”
When conditions are right the cloud does disappear but it doesn’t go to nothing it becomes rain or sleet or snow – it doesn’t enter oblivion – it transforms into something else. And where did the cloud come from. Did it appear out of thin air? No it came from the evaporation from seas, lakes and rivers, which transformed into the cloud.
The great spiritual teacher I was listening to talked of the Christian concept of God’s Grace and he said that this concept is actually the same as great understanding. Understanding these simple truths of the universe will give us peace. The central characteristic of Grace is that it has nothing to do with our own efforts or beliefs. Understanding birth and death as illusions at a deeper level of perception is true both scientifically and spiritually. What they are, are transformations from one thing to another thing. It is through this sense of perception that I have managed to find a measure of peace, and happiness. That is how I interpret the resurrection of Jesus – a transformation from one state to another state.
“Listen I tell you a mystery” says Paul in Corinthians, “we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
It is this very sense of peace that Jesus was pointing to in his perception of unity with God. This way of seeing was written about in the New testament with Jesus who said “The kingdom of God is within you” and most poetically of all in John 17. Unfortunately hijacked by the ecumenical movement, this has absolutely nothing to do with institutional unity but talks of a spiritual union on a much deeper level of perception.
“I do not pray for these only, but also more those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you Father are in me, and I in you, that they may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am.”