If someone asks me, “Why are you a Christian”, I answer one word: Easter. Arising and walking out of a tomb is an exciting concept. Who wants to die? Will those who have died someday get up and walk around? Will the dry bones come to life, as in Ezekiel 37:1-14, which we heard at Easter Vigil? Or will the bones disintegrate, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as we were told on Ash Wednesday when we received our ashes?
I was formerly an Episcopalian before I joined the Ecumenical Catholic Communion. The Episcopal 1979 Book of Common Prayer authorizes laypersons to preside at funerals in the absence of a priest or deacon, and I did so in 2008. The decedent was Frank Kotsiris, the father of my former law partner, Laura Diane Crowell, Esquire. Frank was Greek Orthodox, but at the last minute, his priest refused to conduct the funeral because he had been cremated. So on short notice, I had to compose, write, and publish a service, plus prepare a short sermon.
This experience required me to face the ultimate question for a Christian: Did Jesus in fact experience a bodily resurrection? Radical Bishop John Shelby Spong, regarded by some as an undesirable member of the Episcopate, contends that’s a myth. More traditional Christians say yes, angels rolled away the stone and Jesus walked out of His tomb. My answer is I don’t know: I wasn’t there; it will remain a mystery to me.
Nonetheless, as I presided over Frank’s funeral, I felt Frank was still there. However, the way he was there was different than when he was alive. I observed and felt Frank continued living in the memories of his family and friends as they spoke about him. I felt his presence as I hugged each of his family members and reminded them that, despite their loss, God would keep on loving them.
Frank’s presence is not only his DNA continuing in Laura. Rather, I see the influence of his personality every day in my partner. I only met Frank a few times, but found him to be a warm and gracious man, the kind who valued relationships with people as does Laura. Laura’s attention to personal relationships has been instrumental in building the reputation of our law firm. Simply put, Frank lives on among us at the office.
My wife, Beeper aka: Sharon K. Talley, had the unfortunate experience of losing her father, Clarence, to death in 1998 at age 91. Beeper talks about him all the time, mostly about the values that he represented. He was a sensitive man, honest and fair in his dealings with people, had clean personal habits, worked hard, paid his bills, and was proud to be a patriotic citizen of this country. I see him living on in Beeper every day. Beeper would like me to be more like Clarence, but I doubt I will ever meet that high standard.
My maternal grandparents, long since departed, continue to live in my life. My grandfather was a concert violinist, conductor, and arranger of ethnic music (mostly Polish). He taught me to read music when I was seven. He is, therefore, in my memory whenever I sing, play the keyboard, or compose. I learned to cook from my grandmother. She showed me how to say the Rosary. She is still with me when I am in the kitchen and when I am praying with Our Lady.
Are these examples of the spiritual existence those who die acquire as described in I Corinthians 15? Does life continue, albeit changed? For me, those questions create many possibilities!