Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Between Life and Life
As I carry out my duties doing commital services for spring burials (in the northwoods we often store the remains during the time when the ground is deeply frozen), I endeavor to point the faithful to the day when our Lord will come again and the dead will be raised. Verses from 1 Corinthians 15 are the standard reading. The Easter greeting, "Christ is risen...", completes the event with the sounds of resurrection, not death, echoing in the air.
Yet what happens between that last breath of life in this world and the final resurrection at the end of time? In other words, what is there "between life and life"?
Seventh Day Adventists propose that the soul goes into a dormant condition, "sleeping" unaware until that last day. And if I understand the position of the Catholic church correctly, most heaven-bound believers enter a state known as "purgatory" to go through a time of "purging" or purification of unrepented sins and other sinful problems not resolved in this life. This transitional state does not have a standard time line, but may range from instantaneous to many years.
However, in contrast, Protestant Christians have long held that the believer goes directly from this life to heaven. In the last funeral I did I used Paul's familiar passage from Philippians 1 where he writes: "I desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better..." The apostle knows only two states: "departing to be with Christ" or remaining or living "in the body." He doesn't hint at any other condition.
Furthermore, in 2 Corinthians 5, which we studied last week in class, the description is equally clear: "away from the body" or "at home with the Lord." There seems to be no state between these two, nor is the believer seen as anywhere but in the presence of His Lord and Savior.
Admittedly the scriptures do not devote a lot of space to the disembodied state before the resurrection. Thus, people have conjectured about it endlessly and wondered what it was like. Unfortunately even preachers at funerals may do a disservice here by neglecting to point the faithful all the way to the final resurrection, which is the fulfillment of our salvation sealed by the resurrection of Christ himself.
So as I continue to commit the bodies to their "resting place" in anticipation of the Day of Judgment, I will also look with comfort to the fact that the faithful, now free of pain, death, and sorrow, do enjoy a beatific vision of heaven and its glories. Exactly what that entails I will have to leave to the future. John provides a glimpse, for which I am thankful, and for now that will have to sustain our curiosity.