Advent Retreat 3 - Mortal Life
‘THIS MORTAL LIFE’In the Advent Collect we pray that we may have grace ‘to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light now in the time of this mortal life.’‘The time’ is our time, and it is entirely shaped by our mortality. This is the crux of the prayer – we are praying for grace ‘now’ and our ‘now’ is one that is temporary; we are ‘passing through’ – ‘here we have no abiding city.’ In this ‘now’ we have to live with chance, change, all the unknown and unexpected challenges of a life conditioned by our physicality as a creature in creation which- fallen away from God’s purpose – does not function properly, ‘but groans in travail’. From our first breath we send out a cry about our physical needs which from that first moment dominate our consciousness.2 Corinthians 5: 1-5For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
We believe, as Christians, that Jesus has overcome death and opened a new and living way into God’s presence. We believe that we are made by God to live with him for ever. We believe that physical death is the door to life and that Jesus is that door.But we hold on to this belief in a society that has made death an enemy. To hold a Christian view of mortality is profoundly counter cultural. Death is now industrialised, very few people have encounter with death and the dead. Until fairly recently death was woven into the fabric of family and community life. There is widespread fear and ignorance about death. It is not unusual now to have a funeral without a body. The fact of death is no longer a fact of life. Every effort is made to preserve life and we have reached a stage in medical science where the body can be kept alive in almost any circumstance. Now we have to be killed before we can die. This is the prophecy of Revelation 9: 6 ‘During those days men will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.’A few weeks ago the Russian Orthodox theologian Fr John Behr gave the Constantinople Lecture his subject was ‘Taking back death.’ He argued that Christians have a responsibility to bring death back into the home and family and indeed back into church life. To take back death he argued ‘we have to take back life.’ The life he encourages us to take back is this ‘now’ of ‘our mortal life.’In the USA 80% of medical expenditure is spent on the last two months of life. This is an extraordinary statistic. It reveals an imbalance in the mind of society that it must go to the extreme to avoid death.How should we approach the ‘now of this mortal life’? We pray in the collect that will put on the armour of light. As we reflected yesterday the armour of light is given to us in our baptism. St Paul reminds us in Romans Chapter 6 about Baptism.Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.Christ by coming to us as mortal declared ‘I have come to destroy death and the one who has death at his command’. ‘By death’ declares St Paul ‘he has destroyed death.’ Death having been overcome by Christ is now a tool in his hand. In the letter to the Colossians 3 we hear:‘For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’Death is a tool in Christ’s hand and it also for us St Maximus the Confessor taught ‘the baptised acquire the use of death to condemn sin and pass into divine life.’In fact for the Christian life does not truly begin until we pass through death.Will all this in mind we begin to appreciate how important it is that Christ comes to us ‘now in the time of this mortal life.’ His coming to us has changed the meaning of mortality; what was once a termination of life is now the liberation of the believer into unimaginable fullness of being.All this is possible because Jesus is LIFE – not the life of being alive but the LIFE that is the source of all life. It is this LIFE that comes into our situation, into the ‘now’ of this mortal life. But this LIFE can only truly flourish in us when we die. As we hear in the Christmas Day Gospel : ‘In him was LIFE and that LIFE was the light of men.’May this light lighten our darkness now in the time of this mortal life. AMEN•
For reflection: Do I consider my mortality?