Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter a reminder that death isn’t the end

I have spent far too much time around the hospital over the last few weeks.

I know. It comes with the work of being a pastor. I have lots of experience in that respect. I am no stranger to hospitals and hospitals are not strange places to me.

But this is different.

It’s family,

The oldest member of my tribe died a week ago. At 95, my aunt had lived a long and full life. She was the family matriarch. Her children, my cousins, had children of their own and they, in turn, had children of their own. She counted five great grandchildren as descendants.

Of her generation, there were six. All have died now, except for my father. His heath is not great, although I suspect, at age 88, if he were asked to preach in worship, he would willingly rise to the occasion.

My aunt was custodian, along with her late sister, of the family history. When her sister died, I was estate executor. I found in her apartment a family tree which was 26 feet long when unrolled, tracing the family roots back to 1046 in England. The two sisters co-authored several books of family stories, focussing especially on their great, great grandfather Thomas A. Stewart, one of the original settlers of early Peterborough.

As a child, my aunt grew up in Quebec, a member of one of six English families in the small town of St. Eustache.

St. Eustache is noted for a Roman Catholic church where the Patriotes of Louis Joseph Papineau took refuge during the rebellion of 1837. The British shelled the church, leaving cannon ball marks in the stone walls which are there today.

My aunt grew up in an old seigneury house on the edge of the village with three foot thick walls and massive fireplaces. The school for English families was in the Sunday school hall of the small United Church. The children would attend school from Monday to Friday in one room with grades one to eight and then go into Montreal for high school. They were in the same room of Sunday school on Sundays.

My aunt entered the workforce during World War Two, moving to Ottawa to live with her aunt, and working in the typing pool at RCAF headquarters. She told the story of working outside Air Marshall Billy Bishop’s office and seeing him come in every morning, head down and looking quite ill, followed within a couple of minutes by an Orderly with a steaming pot of coffee.

Later in life, following the premature death of her husband, she returned to work as a church secretary, serving one United Church congregation in Toronto for many years.

You may wonder what all this has to do with Easter.

When we talk about death and dying as Christians (and my aunt was very much a faithful Christian) we can’t speak of death without speaking of resurrection.

Whether you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus or not is irrelevant. But one of the key concepts of the Christian faith is that we believe “something happened”. We don’t know what that something was, apart from the scriptural witness. But the testimony of the faithful, beginning with the women who followed Jesus was that the body was gone and he had been resurrected from the dead.

As I mourn the loss of my aunt, I find myself increasingly focussed on that Easter event.

Something happened. Something I can barely understand. But that event is shared by all Christians. Death isn’t the end.

In writing of my aunt, one of my colleagues said to me, “She’s going to have a glorious Easter.” I take great comfort in that thought.

Because she will.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County