Saturday, February 24, 2007

Life after death

Today I crashed a memorial service. I've officiated at numerous funerals and memorials for persons I did not know, but this is one of the few times I've attended one for someone I had never met. I went with a friend for whom the deceased was a mentor, teacher, colleague and friend. My friend is still grieving the loss of her mother, who died last summer, so I went for support and friendship.

It was the first Unitarian Universalist memorial I had ever experienced. While it was beautiful, poetic, full of music and tribute to this wonderful woman's life, there were no words of resurrection. And I don't mean the resurrection of Jesus. I didn't expect that. What I mean is words of rebirth and hope for those present who obviously were going to miss this person. "Love never ends" was proclaimed several times, but for me it was not enough. What of this woman's spirit; does it not live on in those whose lives she touched, apparently too numerous to count? Isn't it still possible to encounter her warmth, her love, her humor on a daily basis, simply through memory and through the sharing of those memories? All of those persons she nurtured in the art of pastoral care; when they impart that gift to others, is she not immortal? None of this was ever really declared, not with any passion or conviction. Even if we cannot absolutely know that there is a God and be simply humble and awed in the presence of creation, still we can be passionate and convicted in our awe and humility that something has grasped our hearts and minds mightily.

I was left with no question as to who this incredible woman was to this world and that she lived a life well-lived. I was left with many questions concerning this congregation's view of an incarnational universe apart from Jesus. Can we relate to the universe as incarnational without a belief in Jesus as the son of God? I believe so, and it would have lent more power to this service which honored a powerful woman. We celebrated her life; what was missing was the celebration of the life-giving force within and among all life that is always creating, that never dies.


Mystical Seeker said...

I started to leave a comment here, but realized that I had a lot to say, so I ended up writing a blog entry in response to this posting.

Andy said...

I read on AOL yesterday that some archaelogists (and James Cameron!) have a show on Discovery detailing the discovery of the crypt of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and their son.

For a moment, lets pretend that this archaeological find is right on the money, and proves without a shadow of a doubt that Christ was not resurrected and that Christianity has "got it wrong" for 2000 years.

Would this fact in any way change your celebration of the life-giving force within and among all life that is always creating, that never dies? Wouldn't you still be be passionate and convicted in your awe and humility that something has grasped your heart and mind mightily? Isn't the only thing that would change is the face that you put upon it?

Cynthia said...

The physical "evidence", either in the Bible or in something like this Discovery show, does not matter to me. The resurrection has always been taken way too literally. I believe Jesus did rise from the dead; bodily, no. The bodily accounts of resurrection, I believe, were to convince others.

I know that my dad lives on, that his spirit is alive in many ways. But how can I prove that to you? I can't. Jesus is alive again to me because he is alive in me and I am alive again. I think this is what the resurrection accounts were trying to communicate. Something powerful happened to those first followers, powerful enough to create a faith community that withstood persecution under Rome.

I believe that God has always been embodied, incarnated in all life and yet transcends that life as well. Jesus was one of the first to realize that. I follow him because he captured my imagination, my heart and my mind. I think we all need a "face" for God or for that power that grasps us mightily, that informs us that we are part of something larger than just our miniscule lives. We gravitate toward that face that causes us to fall in love, if you will; that also wins us with a form of logic, i.e., makes sense to us.

By the way, Newsweek has a good article about the Discovery show.

Mystical Seeker said...

That is very well put, Cynthia.

For what it's worth, some scholars like John Dominic Crossan point out that most crucified criminals from that time were not buried, but were left out for the dogs to devour. So whether or not Jesus was even buried in a tomb seems like an open question to me. But I think that the really important matter is not his physical resurrection (which I think was mythological) but one's faith that God is with us (Immanuel). The resurrection, I believe, is a matter of faith about Jesus's exaltation and meaning, not about some series of historical events taking place after his crucifiction.

Every 7th Day said...

Something was missing from your description of the service, and I think it was precisely that you did not know the person. I have received hatemail for not mentioning resurrection in some very highly publicized services I have done. But I'm not budging.

My understanding of end of life services is this: A funeral is a religious rite that speaks to what the religion has to say on the ultimate meaning of life and death while memorializing the deceased. A memorial service is a gathering of family and friends to celebrate a life lived and share their sorrow at the person's passing.

I've always believed that to insert resurrection talk of any flavor into a memorial service requires express belief in that mindset by the deceased and her family. I think a funeral calls for it, in a memorial service it is optional.

Personally, if I've excluded it from my remarks, it's because it was inauthentic to the person's beliefs or their family's. Maybe that was going on here???

Cynthia said...


The only distinction I have ever known between a funeral and a memorial service is whether there is a coffin present. When the body is there, it's a funeral. This understanding comes from a family of funeral directors who were members of the church I served in Ohio.

After 9/11 many families held memorial services for their loved ones because remains had not yet been found (or never would be) and closure was needed. Resurrection language was used, I'm sure, to give hope to those families. They needed to hear that life can rise from the ashes.

When I speak of resurrection, I do not always speak of the resurrection of Jesus, of which I believe only in metaphor but a strong one nevertheless. Whenever someone we love has died, we need to hear that word of hope that love does not die, that it is reborn and lives again, creating and renewing all life.

(The service was for a pastoral care chaplain and supervisor.)