I remember as a young boy being terrified by the death of my sister’s rabbit. I was in the house on my own, one Saturday afternoon, probably watching Grandstand. The rabbit was left in the living room with me and I was told to keep an eye on it. Suddenly I heard this violent scream, which made me jump out of my skin. I hardly dare look, but look I did. The rabbit had died and I was terrified. For one thing I’d never heard a rabbit make a sound before, let alone such a terrifying one and for another I didn’t know what to do. So what did I do? I went into denial and left the house. I fled in terror and guilt no doubt, as well as a whole bucket load of shame.
I have only ever seen and touched two dead bodies in my life, both of whom were people I loved beyond words. The first was my father who I helped nurse through the last months of his life. He had died just moments before I awoke to see him that morning. I touched him and kissed him and told him that I loved him. I will never forget the look on his face, just moments after his death. My father had been in great pain, probably all his life, but the stress and strain was all gone as his life had gone. I have the very same frown lines on my forehead that he had. Those lines and all the other lines had disappeared as I looked down at him and touched his face.
The other person was Ethan, Claire’s son, who in his short life taught me everything. I saw him that day shortly after he had been killed and again a month later when they released his body for burial. Again these images and the way that his body felt will always stay with me.
A few months after Ethan died I remember Claire having a conversation with a nurse we know who works in casualty and her asking why after he had died the nurses kept talking to him as if he were alive. From what I can remember she said that they did this because it is understood that the spirit of the person is still there immediately after death and therefore this is how they act with someone who has just died. At least this is what I thought she said. I may well have misheard or misunderstood.
Although I have a powerful experience of God in my life now, I cannot say with any certainty, what happens after we die. I suppose I have to remain fairly agnostic with regards to what happens when life ends. This does not diminish my faith in God it just means I have to be honest and I say I do not have knowledge of the afterlife. So no I do not know where those we love reside after they leave us. Having said that I do know where we can experience them. They can be felt and known every time we talk or remember them, at every family gathering or when old friends come together for whatever reason. On such occasions their spirit does indeed reveal itself. The more sensitive amongst us often talk of feeling their presence. I think my sister Mandy is one of those people and I know of others too.
Those we have loved and lost often live on in our dreams and memories; they are imprinted on our conscious and sub-conscious. Their impact can be felt in our daily actions and our waking thoughts and feelings. I am sure that I am not the only one who imagines them being with us from to time. I remember my father fondly and un-fondly at times and Ethan impacts on just about everything I do and say. If I had not met that remarkable little boy I am not sure I would even be here today. His life certainly revealed God to me.
Those we have loved and are no longer with us have clearly had a profound impact upon us and as such are always with us. The love that we shared never dies. Yes their death changes our relationship with them, but the love that we have known will always live on, will always be with us, it is an eternal force. The love has created a bond that can never be severed. No one can take that love from us. Its influence on us is still there and impacting upon the people that we meet in our lives today, people our loved ones may never have met.
In Luke’s Gospel (Ch 24 vv 1-5) Jesus’ disciples return to the tomb to prepare his body for its final burial, but when they get there the tomb is empty. Then two men in dazzling clothes arrive. We are told that the women are frightened and bow their heads, they do not know what to do. They are then asked the question “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
What a question. I suspect that it reflects powerfully the experiences of the early followers of Jesus “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It reflects their struggles to come to terms with and understand an unmistakable presence that was still there amongst them after he died and that was still impacting upon them and holding them together long after he died. It is still echoing and impacting on humanity today. Whatever we may or may not think of the idea of a bodily resurrection I do not think that anyone can deny that the love that Jesus embodied in his life lived beyond Good Friday.
Some call it resurrection and others call it beloved or blessed memory but something ties us to those we have loved and have loved us, those that have impacted and shaped who we are. As Forrest Church said:
“The greatest of all truths is that love never dies, that every act of love that we perform in this life is carried on into another life and passed on into another life, so that centuries from now the love carries, and that is the work of religion. The opposite of love is not death. It is fear. Fear is what armours our hearts. If our hearts are armoured, they’ll never be broken, and I have seen so many people get hurt in love and then try to protect themselves against it, and when they protect themselves against love, they protect themselves against the only thing that is worth living for.”
This is the hope in Easter that has birthed from the despair of Good Friday; hope and despair are formed from the same root and yet grow in opposite directions.
For love to live on and continue to show us the way we have to let it embody itself within and through us each and every day. For love to incarnate all that we have to do is to be open to it and that begins by first of all opening our hearts to one another and to God.
“Let love continue long and show to us the way and if that be strong no hurt can have a say.”