Easter, 2015 Transcendent Love
Isa. 43:18-21,25; Mt. 28:1-8; 17
Several years ago, I participated in a year-long discussion with Ministers, Theologians, and Physicist’s on the “The End of the World and the Ends of God”. There is now a book out by that title and it contains many of the lectures by the folks in this group. John Polkinghorne, who teaches Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, got the discussion going with a review of the evidence for the life-cycle of our galaxy and he was a little despairing.
Life on our planet has limited duration. Our sun has been in existence for about 5 billion years. Our earth itself is about 4.8 billion years old. Physicists predict that the sun will burn hydrogen in its core and stay more or less as it is for another 5 billion years. Once core hydrogen burning ceases-once all the hydrogen in the sun’s core has been burned into helium- the sun will begin to burn the hydrogen in the shell around the core. The core will then contract and rise in temperature, and the hydrogen burning shell will continue to eat outwards. The increased luminosity and inner temperature will cause the outer atmosphere of the sun to expand and cool so that it becomes a red giant.
Here’s where we come in and the news is not good. The red-giant will expand and envelop the inner planets, Mercury and Venus, at least. Eventually it will either envelop or nearly envelop the Earth. Either way the expanding sun will destroy all life on our planet, if not the planet itself. By the way, the red-giant will be 2,000 times more luminous than the present Sun, even though its outer temperature will be cooler. So the extended future looks very good for sunglasses and sun screen. Too bad there won’t be anyone around to buy them. Don’t get too comfortable in the pew this morning, about 4.5 billion years from now, we are going to be looking for new real estate somewhere in the Vega quadrant.
The Physicists posed this serious question to the theologians about the meaning of the life cycle of our solar system. If we are sure that life as we know it on earth comes to an end in 4 or 5 billion years, is there any basis for hope?
The title of my response was “Manana”… We, we have a couple billion years to figure this out.” I love the way that Physicists have this breadth of scale so that millennia are like tomorrow. The rest of us don’t really have the scope of imagination to conceive of something like 1 billion years, let alone do the math to calculate the life expectancy of the sun.
But we do understand that same question of meaning with reference to the scale of our lives- perhaps I should say, the scale of our loves. For our lives are short and the question of meaning presses itself upon us at different points in our lives, growing in importance as we age.
The question of meaning permeates the backdrop of every high school graduation that we attend. The question of meaning is the background context every baptism, of every wedding we bless, of every anniversary celebration that we toast. It comes to us in a moment of reflection during almost every reunion over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter.
It comes back when our parents die and the generation rolls over and our family is just our brothers and sisters now. It comes back when we marry again and blend a new family. It comes back when we get healed- maybe when we dodge a bullet- and we have a new lease on living.
God’s answer to the question of meaning in the resurrection is that there is a hope in love that transcends life and death. God is fundamentally good and the structure of our universe courses with the pulse of God’s acceptance and love. Our meaning coheres through life and death in divine love.
We blow trumpets in response to that good news, but the message of hope in the resurrection actually comes as something of a whisper, a parabolic glimmer of hope on the horizon. God is in death as God is in life and God is fundamentally good. Leading our lives with love is just intrinsically meaningful. Love adds a transcendent depth of eternity in the midst of time. Spiritually, we intuit that and it is trustworthy.
There is an endearing little film out right now, “The Fault in our Stars” that focuses on a seventeen year old girl who has cancer. She is being treated aggressively but all that her doctors can do to treat this kind of cancer is slow it down. So she won’t live a long life, one way or the other.
Her hospital pairs her up with an 18 year old boy who has already been through the treatment that she is undergoing at the moment, and has returned to being more or less normal.
Not surprisingly, shortly after they meet, boy finds girl charming and cute and their peer to peer mentoring is infused with a lot of flirting and teasing as young people will do with each other.
Way leads to way and the two of them share a common adventure that is sponsored by the “Make a Wish” foundation. This adventure takes them to a romantic spot where boy finds girl even more charming and cute and you can sense all the wonderful romantic energy between them start to really build.
One night they are at dinner and girl acknowledges that this dinner is actually a date and the boy just starts to light up full of promise. They banter back and forth for a while over dessert.
The boy decides wisely to ride the momentum of the moment and he tells her that he thinks he is falling in love with her. She just smiles back at him. Since she is receptive so far, so he decides to throw caution to the wind and make the big speech.
And he tells her that he believes in something. She playfully responds, ‘Why? Maybe there is no point?’
He says, “I won’t accept that. I am in love with you.” She smiles back at him with her eyes again.
“You heard me” he says. She leans over smiling and calls his name.
His speech starts to tumble. “And I know that love is just a shout in the void and that oblivion is inevitable… And that we’re all doomed. And that one day, all of our labors will be returned to dust. And I know that the sun will swallow the only earth we will ever have… And I am in love with you. I am sorry, but I am.”
You have to love the passionate abandon… The whole audience is saying “Go for it kid, you won’t be sorry.” And they do go for it, with the freedom and the heightened passion of a shortened time span, they fill each other with as much love as they are able, lilting in each other’s presence, playful in the present moment, even as they are surrounded by setback and the prospect of death.
At one point, when the end is in sight, she says to him, “You gave me forever within our limited number of days.” And isn’t that what we all say and feel about the people that made our life worth living, the people that we were privileged to love, the people that we let close enough to us,that we know will cause us profound pain when we lose them?
At the heart of things there is a pulse of love that grounds us and transcends us. What makes our lives a privilege to live are the people around us that we have loved and that love us. And when we have to face our own death, this is what we remember, what we savor about our lives. In the film about the Roman General Decimus Meridius, every time he was near death, when he was ill, when he was wounded, when the situation around him looked overwhelming, he would have a recurring vision of the after-life that he hoped for. It kept him going.
In the vision he was walking through the gate that led to his country place. He would feel the grains of wheat as they brushed on his hand, walking through his fields up towards his home. And he would see his wife. She was always young (about 30) and his children were always jumping around her in play. It is most of what we really long for. We are just so grateful for the very best of what we have known about home, we are so grateful to have loved.
That love that fills us with meaning at the heart of things is divine. It is the force that transcends time and space, life and death. God loves you and blesses you in life, at the edge of life, and beyond your life. That force of love precedes us by billions of years and will continue on after us for billions more years. Imaginatively, we can’t really take in the scope and breadth of what that really means for our world, but it is good and that is enough. We live with that hope in faith.
So, it was with the disciples. We don’t know what happened in the resurrection and we won’t know, leaving the fundamental mystery of life and the after-life in tact. That is the way it was from the beginning. Even the disciples, who wrote the gospel accounts, never described it as unambiguous. You always have this note, “Some believed; And some doubted.” Whatever it was, we aren’t really able to take it in. But it was good.
And it didn’t change the limitation of our time on earth. Even the resurrected one doesn’t get to stay around forever. The pathos that Mary felt, watching with her friends, as her son was killed on a cross is no less painful. It just highlights the spiritual truth that the pain we feel at the loss of our loved ones is a price we will gladly pay for the privilege of love.
No, the resurrection is more like a glimpse of hope that ultimately our world is shot through with Divine love. And our response in worship is one of gratitude.
My brothers and sisters, live with passion. Love with abandon. Blossom with hope. Bless your people in the limited time that we have on this earth. And may you be filled this day with the unbearable lightness of being. Amen.