That my Aunt Alma had a remarkable zest for life was not a difficult lesson for me to learn but it is one that, even at the distance that I lived from her geographically, I was able to learn again and again. In recent years, I would visit her having been prepared for her diminished state by my caring parents only to talk with her for a long time with hearty bursts of language all around. And again, over these last weeks, as I prepared to come north for her funeral, her indefatigable zest for life once again thwarted all of the best laid plans of any who took an interest in her. But this day has at last come, as we knew it would, for all that of our earthly lives must, eventually, meet death. But death is not an enemy, nor is it to be feared, for death is not an end but merely a change, a journey to a foreign country that we will all one day walk.
I say walking deliberately; for when we imagine our life after death we should think of ourselves doing the things that we do now and nothing that we do now can be done apart from our body. Paul believed in the resurrection of the body, and this is exactly the question that occasioned this part of his letter to the Corinthians. It seems like some in the church in Corinth did not believe in the resurrection of the body. The idea is relatively ridiculous after all; that we will be resurrected, that our bodies will walk again. But Paul is convinced that because this was how it was for Jesus it must be the case that this is also how it will be for us.
The Corinthians share this disbelief with many in our day. Even many Christians do not believe that the shape of our resurrection is bodily. A spiritual resurrection seems possible, just, but a bodily resurrection? And if we accept that the shape of our resurrection is bodily, what do we do with the memory of a body like Alma’s?
The challenge here is balancing hope for a bodily resurrection with the shape of current reality. This is a challenge because we know that there is no such thing as a generic body. Our bodies are our bodies because of how they give a very specific shape to our life. For example, Alma was a person who played the piano for others, gifted with nimble fingers. What do we learn from the specific shape of Alma’s body, here at the end that helps us understand our general hope for a bodily resurrection? Paul says that in the change that we will undergo our current bodies will put on new features that will make them appropriate for God’s kingdom. We do not lose our bodies but become endowed with new characteristics; imperishability rather than perishability, immortality rather than mortality. Perhaps we become new people bodily responsive to the world in new ways.
This is the point at which I derive great hope from the life and death of my Aunt Alma. For she did a very great thing again and again in her life in denying expectations. From her birth to her death her zest for life, her immovability, her great perseverance showed imperishability and the hope of immortality already breaking into the shape of her mortal life.
And this hope is not just a hope for Alma, or for us, it is a hope for all of reality. For it is not just that some are saved from death. No, death itself is swallowed up in victory! We no longer live orientated towards our death. Instead we live with zest at all times, being steadfast, immovable, always abounding in Christ’s work. This is the work we saw Alma doing again and again. Death, death becomes a mosquito. Death is irritating but now not even capable of leaving a stinger in our bodies.
This general hope is the hope that the psalmist extols. Psalm 46 is set in a world much like our world, with mountains and waters which are changing. The psalmist, much like Paul, is convinced that God will provide refuge and steadiness. The work of the God in this psalm again challenges death this time in the guise of war, armaments, and defenses which trust in human ingenuity rather than God.
God’s call is one that expects us to be still and simply know that God is God. In this knowledge, and in the knowledge that Christ has victory over sin we can, along with Alma, hope with zest, a hope that gives shape to our life and life ever after, AMEN.