this is based on a piece I wrote for the Christ Church weekly newsletter; more of these are at www.ecrier.blogspot.com
As I do every so often, this morning I was with the Sisters of Saint Anne in Arlington, saying Mass for the convent. Our Gospel was the story of Lazarus and the rich man—Lazarus who suffered at the gate of the rich man’s house, poor and begging, and the rich man, who after death found himself in burning flames while Lazarus and Abraham snuggled together in heaven. As I wrote last week, I’m pretty agnostic about an individual “Big Bad” (i.e., Satan/the devil) but I do believe that there must be some sense of wholeness and restoration for us in the passage from life to death, and that must certainly include a sense of sharing in the suffering that we’ve inflicted.
Let me explain a little more.
Nice as it sounds, I don’t think that everything is unicorns and fluffy clouds after we die. Even for the purest in heart, our puny minds can’t even imagine how grace-filled and beautiful it will be to be united with God. I think we are fully known now, but we don’t fully see. Then will see “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13.12) and know as we have been fully known. As we are known, now—then we will know. And part of that knowing surely must be how we are linked to others, how the suffering of one person hurts us all. In our life together now, we hide those connections; we don’t see the suffering of the animals we eat, or the panic of polar bears losing the ice they depend on. We don’t visit the factories that make our stuff, don’t feel the depth of the unending fear of those who live in war zones and suffer genocide. We allow them to stay far away—frankly, we prefer it that way.
How would our world change if we enacted Christ’s call to love our enemies? We barely even try to imagine because we’re too afraid they’d shoot first.
But in that “face to face” encounter? All of that has to fall away. The cost of our lives comes into focus. Suffering will no longer be invisible. And yes, I think it’s going to hurt. Not because God wants to punish us—and likely not with literal flames (IT’S A METAPHOR!)—but because seeing the real nature of reality that we can only dimly imagine now will show us how we are linked. And if a Pakistani woman whose husband has been killed by a drone strike really is my sister, those unicorns and fluffy clouds are going to feel pretty far away.
Still, the heart of the Gospel is forgiveness; still Jesus forgave even from the cross. I also don’t believe that what we do is forever. I can’t imagine that anything we ourselves can do can trump God’s power to restore all things and all persons. Only God can do forever. We can pray—with our hearts as well as our hands and feet. We ask God for the grace to be bold enough to witness suffering—not to hide—and strong enough to do something about it. We’re called to inhabit the space between, of grieving oppression in the world as well as acting on it. Righting injustices but also thanking God for full bellies and access to health care. Bringing the “Kingdom/kin-dom of God” to be right here and right now, and helping to knock down that wall between “heaven” and “earth.”
In baptism, we embrace the covenant “with God’s help”—a lot is wrong, but a lot is possible, too. And we know we’re not working alone.