Life’s Rehearsal for Life?

Note: The following is a textual revision of a biblical reflection that I offered to and with my parish community of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, last night during the livestream of the Night Service from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.

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Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb. She saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said, “Mary!” She said, in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (meaning Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20.11-17a; my revision)

Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) (c. 1525), Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489-1534)

Jesus rose from the grave in a physical body that could be touched, that could be held. And, later, as Jesus dined with his disciples on the beach by the Sea of Tiberias, it was with a body that hungered for food, a body that could partake of earthly nourishment.

Yes, according to all of the canonical gospel accounts, Jesus’ resurrection body was fully, cosmically accessorized; enabling him to walk through locked doors and to come and go, to appear and to disappear at will. Nevertheless, again, Jesus’ resurrection body was one of flesh and blood.

In this, I challenge an olden notion that our lives in this world serve as our rehearsal for our lives in the next world, in eternity.

If this is true, then this life is both less important, for there is something better coming and more important, for we’d better ace our rehearsal (that is, live right) or risk on the Day of Judgment, the day of our master class performance, being sent to hell!

Again, I challenge this idea that this life is our rehearsal for the next life because Jesus’ physical resurrection tells me that this life is important for its own sake.

But not so fast!

If this life is so important, that is, if this life is all about now, then we risk another and worse danger of making life all about us. Thus, leading us to and leaving us caught in an ever-inward and downward focused obsessive spiral of self (-centeredness):

Self-fulfillment…
Self-attainment…
Self-aggrandizement…
Self-achievement…
Self-enhancement…

(In times past, I have reckoned this manner of life as the human idol and idle worship of that triumvirate of mini-gods: me, myself, and i.)

So, perhaps, striving to be faithful to Jesus means ridding ourselves of each and every notion of self.

But not so fast!

For Jesus, the one who died for us and the one who was raised for us, taught and teaches us how to live. And his teaching, yes, involves the self, yet with an utterly, outwardly transformative element: sacrifice for the sake of others.

And if, when we live as Jesus lived and died and was raised, self-sacrificially, then that, I think, is at least one quality that makes this life the eternal now.

 

Illustration: Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) (c. 1525), Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489-1534)

4 thoughts on “Life’s Rehearsal for Life?

  1. Linda Barksdale May 8, 2020 — 2:00 pm

    Paul, I remember a sermon you did about a hound….. sound familiar and is there a cope posted anywhere?

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    1. My dear Linda, what a memory you have! Far better than mine, I fear, for I’d have to search for the sermon. Nevertheless, the reference pertains to Francis Thompson’s “A Hound of Heaven,” which, in my view, in spectacular metaphor, compares Jesus to an unrelenting heavenly hound who tracks us down through the annals of time, so to bring us safely Home.” Love, always and in all ways, to you and Dick

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  2. One of the things I’ve learned from this pandemic is how many people are committed to self-sacrifice. Those on the front lines doing their best to save others KNOWING that they are putting themselves in harms way. That is truly living the Jesus way in my book and we are all witnesses to it. Makes me proud.

    Much love!

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  3. Loretta, there is something grandly majestic about the human spirit of those who, metaphorically and literally, lay down their lives for others. In their self-sacrifice, I am given to ponder what I consider a paradox, that is, as I tend to define paradox, that which, on the surface or at first glance makes little sense, yet that which, simultaneously, at its heart, embraces, indeed, embodies deepest truth. The paradox of self-sacrifice is this: No human, given our fundamental self-interest is or can be wholly self-sacrificial, yet the only way for one to live into self-sacrifice, it seems to me, is to so wholly possess one’s self, so to give it away (for one cannot sacrifice what one possesses not or has not).

    Love always and in all ways,
    Paul

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