John Churcher uses the occasion of Remembrance Sunday to distill a few ideas on what survives after death.
Remembrance Sunday 2010
In preparation for Remembrance Sunday I have been spending a long while contemplating what Remembrance, life and death are all about.
For many church attending Christians there seems to be an emphasis upon this life being a preparation for life beyond the grave. There is also for many a holding to the system of belief that states that to ensure eternity in the presence of God one needs to make a specific confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer of both self and the world. For some of these Christians the wonderful word pictures of the Book of Revelation are taken literally. There will be perfect happiness where we will all be reunited with loved ones and live in the eternal city of gold, as pure as transparent glass, and pearls and precious jewels. We will constantly praise the Lamb upon the Throne, and so on.
But what happens to all those whom we remember today [and also last Thursday at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month] who gave their all, paying the ultimate price in the service of humankind, and yet who never made a dogmatic confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour?
What has happened to all those for whom prayers have been said, such as, “Let us remember before God and commend to his safe keeping all those who have died for their country in war… we remember all who fought and died in the service of humankind.” And what is the eternal outcome of all the Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Jews who fought for justice and peace and died in that service of humanity? What’s more, where have all those who were the enemy, Christians included, gone to spend their eternity?
Do we make the unconditional love that is God conditional upon the prayer of repentance and confession of faith in Jesus? Do we exclude those Christians who fought on the other side? Do we condemn all those of another religious experience to an eternity in hell fire? If that is what the dogma of the Church continues to maintain [or in some cases clearly states] then I want no more to do with that kind of Church. It seems to me that this kind of barrier creating dogma is damaging to the Church, damaging to the cause and spirit of Jesus, and damaging to the psychological and theological well being of Christian and non-Christian alike.
But as far as I am concerned, it arises from a false understanding of the nature of God. Any barrier creating ‘God’ is the figment of humankind’s quest to be the chosen people. It is tribal. It defines who can be in and who has to be out. It has no place within the developing spirituality that I experience beginning to influence the great religious traditions of the world.
In Christian funeral services there is a recognition that it is from dust that we come and to dust that we return. I have no problem with that, but it does not answer the ultimate question of what happens to us all upon our moment of physical death. There are those who argue that we are all made from stardust and to stardust we return. That gives the eternal element in that we were eternal stardust before we were born and we will return to eternal stardust forever after we die. This offers some logic to those seeking a way around the dogma and could include all people regardless of their religious labels. But it does not convince me entirely.
However, what if Christians could look into the courtyard where some Muslims and Hindus sit? What may we find to help us gather a new progressive insight into life, death and eternity? Perhaps we would rethink who the real ‘me’ happens to be? What if the real ‘me’ is not the body and its ego with a soul / Divine Presence within? What if the real ‘me’ is God, or the Eternal Spirit, or the Ground of All Being, or the Core Essence – or whatever descriptors we use to explain our individual and corporate experiences of God? Could that not mean that we are all sacred beings, we are all ‘God’ from eternity before and into eternity beyond this earthly life?
If the real me is the soul / the Divine presence and the body is its temporary clothing then the physical body is just like a coat on one’s back and the mind is like the hat sitting upon the head. They are both discarded when their usefulness is finished. In a similar way so the body and the mind [the ego etc] are both discarded by the soul [by the indwelling God] when they have finished their useful life. But the soul / the Divine Presence, the real ‘me’ continues forever because God continues from everlasting to everlasting. The real ‘me’ is part of the living eternity here and now.
And what place does Jesus have in all this? For me, as a follower of the Jesus Way, it means that he no longer needs to be the barrier that separates Christian from non-Christian. It means that Jesus no longer needs to be experienced as the substitution for my sins on the cross. It means that God no longer needs to be seen as the Cosmic Child abuser. The teaching and life style of Jesus form my Gateway into fuller knowledge and a greater experience of the Sacred within.
It also changes the purpose of my life from a preparation for life beyond in some celestial city of harmony and peace, into living in that celestial city of harmony and peace in the dirt and grime of life in the ever present. American poet, Richard Shelquist says, “The true purpose of your life is to be an instrument of the Divine Presence, bringing love, harmony and beauty into every situation in every moment. Life is a journey, not a destination, and all that truly matters is how one takes each step of the journey. If you take each step in harmony with the wondrous Divine Presence, then you are fulfilling your life’s purpose regardless of the situation.”
This echoes well with progressive Christian thinking and experience. It also places all those who died in war in the service of humankind as they fought for justice and peace, into the eternal life that all of us share: Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, atheist, agnostic and so on. I personally do not think that war is the way to peace – peace is the only way, but that is matter for discussion on another occasion. Suffice it for now for me to conclude that the real ‘me’ is not my body and mind communicating with the God out there through my soul. I am increasingly experiencing that the real ‘me’ is the soul, the indwelling God calling me and leading me into ever more sacred experiences. My body and mind are but clothing for the action of the indwelling God in the ever present.
Now if all religions could grasp that as an insight into the nature of God and ‘us’, what a different world we would live in. And although it is right to remember the dead who died in war [both civilian and military] the day could come when there will be no more need for war or terrorism. The celestial city would indeed have come in all its glory into the everyday experiences of all people here and now. Open the door and glimpse the way in which the new reformation of religious experience is beginning to happen. Open the door and see the future of spirituality and all the benefits that it offers to humankind. It is the sisterhood and brotherhood of all people being soul / the eternal presence of God within and beyond each one of us. And Jesus, as a brother and exemplar of all that is possible, is no less real and no less my eternal Gateway into that experience. Do not give up hope. The future is here if we could only let ourselves experience it.
© John Churcher. 2010. All rights reserved.