This is the ninth window and it is responsible for all the Easter prayers and hymns we have used in our worship today. It says:
NOW IS CHRIST RISEN FROM THE DEAD
TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN LOVING MEMORY OF
HAROLD OXLEY AN ESTEEMED ELDER OF THIS CONGREGATION
Harold Oxley was indeed an esteemed elder of this congregation, but he was also a very well known member of the Halifax business community. Mr. Oxley died 11 days before Easter on April 10, 1935. He was in his 70th Year. Here are some statements from his obituary in the Halifax Daily Star, on April 11, 1935:
“Death claimed a prominent citizen of Halifax last evening when Harold Oxley passed away at his residence 259 Jubilee Road. Mr. Oxley played an active part in many phases of the city life, and his death, climaxing a severe illness, will be keenly felt throughout the city and province. Apart from his association with the business life of Halifax, he was, in his younger years, an athlete of considerable renown and even throughout his declining years maintained his interest in sport. – Born in Halifax. He was president and senior partner in the firm of Grant, Oxley and Company, a member of the board of the Nova Scotia Building Society and was on the board of directors of General Trust and Executor Corporation. Mr. Oxley throughout his life displayed an active interest in church work and was a member of the Session of Fort Massey United Church. He was long identified with the work of the Poor Association and was a member of the board of the Halifax Industrial School. In sport he was a member of the Halifax Curling Club and a life member of the Wanderers Club. Along with other family members, it was noted that he was survived by his widow, the former Miss Janet MacGregor, daughter of the late Lieutenant-Governor MacGregor.”
What a rich and wonderful life he lead in his time here on earth, and it is our hope that he continues to lead in his all the days of his life in the presence of God as is the promise of our faith…
I love watching the sun set. I am aware of the setting of the sun every single day, even if it is simply to pause wherever I am to realize that I am missing its magnificent going down below the horizon. The sun has set every night that you and I have been alive and a million times more before we were ever here. We can count on it and we do. Thanks to science, we know why it appears the way that it does in the sky. We know why it glows its fiery colours and appears to burn brighter just before it is no more. We know why the sky glows pink long after it has disappeared. And because we now understand how the earth is rotating while it moves around the Sun, we are sure that pending any disaster that destroys our planet or our Sun that we will see the sun set again the next day and the day after that. We recognize that the light changes to dark even when there are clouds in the sky.
For thousands of years, human beings have trusted the setting of the sun to count our days even before we understood why and how it happened. “Why” and “how” didn’t matter to us because we didn’t need to know to trust what we had come to know would just be. And another thing we knew…? Night would end, and day would break with a sunrise. Unless we live at one of the far poles of our earth, sentient beings everywhere count on the sun rising every morning. Nobody doubts that this might happen. Most of us take it for granted. We trust that the sun will set and the next day it will rise again. What would ends begins and what begins will eventually end and repeat again and again. This cycle always continues right? — To date….So far, so good.
Like the phenomenon of the rising and setting sun, we look to nature to see the hope of renewal everywhere. It is the ever present promise of light revealing itself through darkness. Earlier we sang, “In the Bulb There is a Flower” So much of creation begins in darkness. Seeds in the ground, babies in the womb, winter turning into spring. Everywhere we look we see it if we look. Life eternal, always beginning, always ending, always beginning again.
Some would argue that human beings have believed in an after-life all the way back to the Neanderthal. We are well aware of people burying their dead with treasures to take with them into the afterlife like the ancient Egyptians for example. The afterlife was the realm of the dead. You died, you went there and that is where you stayed. The story of where the dead would go and how they would get there is presented in many different ways across time and culture.
Christians also believe in life after death. But we believe that death is not the eternal resting state. Because we believe that Jesus lived, died and rose again, we believe that there is new life coming after death for us too. This is what the scripture today is pointing to. Paul was writing to the Christians of Corinth because he was aware that they were denying the resurrection of the dead.
Paul’s crafts this part of his letter as a philosophical argument that is sometimes called “A reasoned proof of the resurrection of the dead.” And, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, his argument is modeled after the greek philosophical proof of the immortality of the soul as found in Plato’s work Phaedrus. The entire argument takes 58 verses.
The idea of bodily resurrection is an impossible idea. Its impossibility is what makes it a mystery and a core element of faith. Faith is not about believing in something that can be proved. Faith is not belief based on empirical knowledge. Belief based on faith is a belief in the impossible. According to Paul, proclaiming belief in the impossibility of resurrection from the dead for all who believe in the resurrection of Christ is crucial to our faith. Resurrection of the body mean that it was not just the soul separate from the body that lives an eternal life, but that the bodies of the dead, being inherently part of God’s creation would also rise. Until studying bodily resurrection this week I had not given this concept much thought as it is a little talked about piece of our lineage as United Church people. I believe I have accepted this doctrine, not necessarily blindly, but in the way that the philosopher Kierkegaard speaks of faith. It is a paradox he says. When one is greeted with ideas similar to the absurdity of the idea of bodily resurrection, Kierkegaard said that there is an either/or choice to be made. We either believe or we are offended. Paul’s proof contained in chapter 15 is logically unsound if put to the test as it begs the question. It fails because there simply is no proof. We have to accept that we don’t need proof… we need faith. The closest thing we have to proof of bodily resurrection is the testimonies of those who encountered Jesus Christ in bodily form after his death. This is what Paul reminds us of…. the stories of the resurrection of Jesus Christ…the stories of our faith!
Paul’s understanding of the resurrection is firmly rooted in his belief in original sin and atonement. According to Paul, we are all sinners because of the sins of Adam in the Garden of Eden and those sins are atoned for, or debts are paid for, by the death of Jesus. Maybe, like me, you are not in agreement with Paul’s base theory of salvation by atonement. Maybe another theory for the purpose of the resurrection resonates more deeply with you. But, as Christians, one thing remains true about the statement that Christ is raised from the dead, regardless of why you think it is necessary. The truth is this; if we don’t believe that that statement is true then we must seriously consider what makes us Christian? That was Paul’s question for Corinth.
At that time Christians were being persecuted for professing their belief in Jesus Christ. Paul knew this well because he was guilty of doing the persecuting before he met Jesus on the road and accepted his invitation to follow him. Paul is asking the Corinthians to stop denying the very thing that is the base for the belief that they are willing to die for. By denying that human beings will die and rise again, they are denying that Jesus died and rose again. If we believe that Jesus came to show us how to live out the will of God, but we don’t believe that Jesus rose again, then we only believe that he died.. If we believe that then we believe that he came to show us that God’s will, the way of Jesus, ends at death. Death is the end of the story. Paul is right, surely a belief like this is a position to be pitied. What is it all for then? Where is the hope? Because, my friends, resurrection is about hope! It is about the hope that when we die, we will rise again.
Resurrection teaches us more than simply what happens when the physical body dies. It also teaches us about the hope present in all the little deaths that appear in our lives. It teaches to have strength and to trust enough to let go in times of darkness so that we can make room for new life in our lives. Not only do we have the natural world to show us that all things are made new again, but the story of Jesus is a human example that it is true for us too. It is possible! Because all things are possible with God, even if they are absurd, even if we have no proof. That’s what we call faith.
As a resurrection people, we need to spend some time with what it means to say, “He is risen indeed”. Does it mean we have to prove it? I don’t think so. I think it means that we have to be with it. We have to sit with those words. We can do that in the same way that we can sit at the sunrise or the sunset. Just being in the truth of those moments sets them in our hearts. In the same way, letting ourselves be present to the resurrection moments in nature – like the night turning into dawn, like the rotten apple turning into a new tree, like the caterpillar becoming the butterfly, helps set HOPE in our hearts. Then we begin to see HOPE manifested in our lives – when dark depressions lift, when the grief of loss moves into the joy of remembering, when what once seemed like the worst moments of our lives proved to be a catalyst that created miraculous change. All of these kinds of moments help us have faith that they will happen again and again.
There is a very good reason that Good Friday is just remembered on one day and Easter goes on for weeks. We are not meant to sit in the darkness for very long. It is necessary, but we aren’t meant to stay there. We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people. We have faith in the impossible and because we do, we have hope for everlasting life. Let me end with the words of a woman that knew of darkness turning into light. Our very own Ms. Rita MacNeil sang it well: “as sure as the sun rise, as sure as the sea, as sure as the wind in the trees…..we rise again”
Thanks be to God.