Where the Dead Live
In The Apostles’ Creed prayer, we say that we believe in what is called the “communion of saints”. This means that we believe that those who have died are not only still “alive” in our memories but that they are still in a real relationship with us. But how and where do we find them?
In these days of Eastertide, we read a lot in the scriptures about the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus and where his followers went to find him. One story in particular has always intrigued me.
On that first Easter Sunday morning, we are told that Mary Magdala and some other women, armed with spices with a view to embalming his dead body, went to Jesus’ grave. But they didn’t find him there. Instead, they found an Angel who asked them: “why are you looking in a cemetery for someone who is alive? He’s not here. Go instead to Galilee and he will meet you there”.
I believe that that instruction still holds good for us today. When we are looking to meet our loved ones who have died, we will find them in “Galilee”. But where and what is “Galilee”?
“Galilee”, for Mary Magdala and the followers of Jesus, was more than a place on a map, the northern part of Israel. It was the place where Jesus’ spirit had flourished, the place where they had first met him, the place of his key miracles and the place where their spirits had been stretched and warmed by contact with him.
“Galilee” represented the place of their innocence, their initial learning, their first falling in love with him. Now, after his death, they were being asked to go back to that place as the privileged spot where Jesus would meet them again. And our faith says the same thing to us.
In common with Mary Magdala and those first followers, we, too, can meet our deceased loved ones by going back to “Galilee”, to those places and memories where their spirits flourished and where our own spirits were stretched and warmed by contact with them.
There is both a deep truth and deep challenge in the words the Angel spoke to Mary Magdala on that first Easter morning. Of course, we should honour our dead and visit the graves where their bodies rest, but we meet our deceased loved ones where their spirits flourished and where our own souls were warmed in our contact with them.
As well as honoring their graves, we should always remember to honour their lives. We need to honour the wonderful energy that they uniquely incarnated and which in turn nurtured, instructed and helped make us who we are. When we do this, then our relationship with them does not just continue, it deepens and they continue to “live” in our lives just as Jesus did in the lives of his first followers.