Tonight I had a well needed respite from a hectic week of research, paper writing, work, sickness, and internship stuff. But rather than spend tonight sitting on my duff, a group of close friends and I decided to resurrect a tradition we had back in undergrad. During finals week a we would find a time to tackle the most heinous of food establishments, a chinese buffet. The food was good, the place was packed, and the company was great.
It’s nice every now and again to revive traditions from the past. Somehow those rituals, no matter how mundane or involved they may be, have a way of turning the clock backward to a time when life seemed easier, at least for me it did. Back when that tradition of demolishing buffets began I was five years younger and much more naive. Although I knew my wife we were not anything near a couple. I hadn’t encountered the thoughts, fears, and struggles that came with my time in St. Louis. I had hope that I could be the one to change everything, the hope that those things that needed changing actually could change. For a moment tonight I was that younger dumber kid, and it was fun.
There was another tradition today that also brought me back, only not as far as a few years ago. During the service this morning the church celebrated “All Saints Day.” It’s a day set apart to remember those who have died in the past year. Of course a name and a face ran through my head, but it wasn’t a famous one. It was Sarah. As a part of the service today one of the traditions used to remember those dead is going up and lighting a candle which then signifies their presence. As I lit my candle I thought of her. How she was the first person my own age that I knew had passed. How those moments upon hearing the news were surreal and uncertain. How her death has shaped my life in ways I don’t think our actual friendship ever did. Sure it was a somber moment, however, it was also one that didn’t leave me stranded in the past. But before I can talk about that future, it’s to the past I must go.
This past week I spent time sick and studying. Part of the focus of my study was the role of God and divine messengers in book of Revelation. For quite a long time this controversial book has captivated audiences and distressed them just the same. It has been fought over, struggled with, and mined for all its worth. While some laud it and others abhor it, this week it became apparent to me that this book is in some ways the most helpful book in the New Testament. Helpful not because it’s some sort of road map we can find one to one correlation to our current situation, but because of the picture it paints of the church. The picture of a church that suffers, that struggles, and that fights daily. But beyond that, beyond the picture of the broken church is the picture of the risen and victorious Lamb controlling the drama as it unfolds.
There is something to that imagery of a Lamb who was slain but is now victorious that I really appreciate. Perhaps it’s the notion that someone else is in control. Perhaps it’s the notion that a helpless and feeble lamb has overcome the fiercest of enemies, namely death. In a way its both, but in a way its so much more than either. In the mind of John that Lamb is most assuredly Christ. That slaying took place at the cross yet in being slain that victory won. Won in the resurrection, where that helpless Lamb led to the slaughter busted through the other side of death and broke death’s claim over humanity. This Lamb attested to in the book of Revelation is why I think that book is so helpful, because it reminds us of that reality. The reality that death is not the end.
This is the future I was reminded of again this morning as I looked at all those burning candles. There is something that separates the Christian narrative from other religious narratives and it’s not that you get to go to heaven. I am not sure how this became the end goal of Christian thought though I do have my own cynical theories. However, I’m not sure approaching the hope we have in Christ is actually helpful. In my own experience it actually makes things a little more confusing. Christ becomes the stamp on our hand that gets us into the club rather than the Resurrected Lamb who was slain.
This is why I think that imagery is so important, because the Lamb’s end what not its death. Death could not hold that Lamb. And just as that Lamb broke through and turned death on its head, we too will live again. This is the hope, not that we get to heaven, but that death is not our end. That in Christ we have died already. That just as he was the first to rise from the dead we too will one day rise again. I don’t know what that is going to look like when it happens or what it all means to sort this out as we continue to breathe here on the earth. But what I do know is that I’m tired of pretending the hope we have in Christ is one that allows us to escape suffering.
What makes us think that believing in God is going to make everything better? Yea I know there are verses about living life abundantly but I wonder what that means. What if living an abundant life meant a life lived without fear. No fear of today. No fear of tomorrow. No fear of the next day or the day after that. Not because all your bills are paid or your fridge is full, but because that fear that unites humanity has been removed from your life. That fear of dying, of not being remembered after you breathe your last, that fear that you won’t be able to provide and continue to matter after your time has passed. But that is not something we have to fear, because death is not the end.
I know I sound like a broken record. Perhaps you could care less about anything I’ve written here, but that isn’t going to stop me from writing it because as much as I want you to have the mind blowing realization that I have, I’m writing this because its hard to believe, and I need to remind myself of it. Life and death routinely frighten me to my core. I don’t know if bills are always going to get paid, if food is always going to be on the table. In fact, there have been many times money hasn’t been there when it was needed. But even more than that I wonder what will happen to my wife if I should die tonight. I wonder if I’m living this life for nothing. If the work I’m putting in and pushing toward is going to matter. And no matter how much I try to figure it all out I can’t and it scares me.
But that is why I write. To remind myself and hopefully remind someone else too. Because these things, though they matter, are not my ultimate end. There will come a time when I no longer matter to this world, but thats ok, because that is not my end. My end is with that Lamb who was slain. My end is on the other side of death. My end is the beginning of a life resurrected. My end is, as the old hymn goes, in that distant triumph song. The song sung by the Lamb. The song sung in the scriptures. The song sung by the church. And sung by a life lived in that reality.