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Changed, not Ended

Changed, not Ended

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 – Easter Week, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 97, 99 (morning) // 115 (evening)

Exodus 12:40-51

1 Corinthians 15:(29)30-41

Matthew 28:1-16

For me this year, Lent started early and Easter Sunday stayed late. Lent seemed to begin just a few days before Ash Wednesday with the unexpected death of a parishioner. Then, just yesterday, I assisted with a funeral that had much in common with the Easter Eucharist we’d celebrated just two days before: Easter hymns, the smell of lilies, and a congregation that filled the church as well as our overflow seating.

Indeed, our passage from life, through death, to new life can occur at any moment. Today could be the next Ash Wednesday or the next Easter Sunday, whether they’re on our calendar or not. Yet most days catch me somewhere in between a solemn grief over life’s brevity and the joyful assurance of the resurrection.

Many of us inhabit one zone of that spectrum between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, and our faith slides back and forth along a continuum, be it narrow or wide. Our faith might make us fully conscious of how fragile, vulnerable, and short life is, and leave us convicted of death’s finality and inevitability. Or, our faith might make us aware that life is a beautiful and glorious gift, and give us the confidence that perfect rest and endless bliss await us and our loved ones after our passage through death.

But whether the Christian faith sensitizes us to our mortality, or fills us with hope for our everlasting future, we are staying true to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Our second reading today tries to hold onto both dimensions of this faith.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that “we are putting ourselves in danger every hour,” and that “I die every day!” When a hypothetical someone asks what kind of body people will have when they’re raised from the dead, Paul calls them a fool. Why bother speculating? We’ll never be able to guess. Instead, we should recognize the body we have now as nothing “but a bare seed” that must die. We will have to let it go. As we’re reminded on Ash Wednesday, this body will return to the dust.

And yet Paul also tries to infuse his readers with a glorious sense of hope for what God will do with the lives that we throw into his hands. Paul takes risks because he does not live “with merely human hopes.” Also, he’s sure that once we’ve sown the bare seed of our bodies, “God gives it a body as he has chosen.” As we celebrate on Easter Sunday, God has prepared for us a future worth striving and waiting for.

One of the most beautiful lines of the Episcopal funeral liturgy helps us to cultivate this faith. It says, “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.” I come back to this statement again and again. Like Paul’s letter, these words leave so much of the mystery unanswered, but they don’t cut off our wondering about life’s persistence and perpetual transformation.

Whether we spend most of our faith lives on Ash Wednesday or on Easter Sunday or somewhere in between, I hope that we can ponder together the mystery that our lives are forever “changed, not ended.”

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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