These 2 years of Covid have been extremely difficult and challenging. I remember through the first wave of lockdowns where we were told – 2 weeks to flatten the curve – and we were okay with that. It got extended and we began to see the extent of the impact. Our lives were impacted in many ways including socially. We couldn’t go out for dinner. We couldn’t go out for drinks. We couldn’t sit with our friends and go out for coffees. And Melbourne being a very cosmopolitan lifestyle it impacted on our social lives. As a result businesses were crippled without patronage.
But there was hope that maybe through this we would re-evaluate our lives and what’s important. But we saw that each time as soon as lockdowns and restrictions were lifted the news would film people back out in pubs, clubs, restaurants as if nothing had happened. We had even hoped that maybe it may have spiritually awakened people in their faith in God. But attendances at church suggested otherwise. In fact the Bureau of Statistics reported that only 13% of the population attended worship at Christmas.
We spend a lot of time and effort into trying to find out – why aren’t people coming to church. We try to find out the reason and then we try and fix the issue. I don’t like the music – it’s too old. So we modernise our music – and they still don’t come.
Sunday’s my only day off – so churches have tried other times – and they still don’t come. It’s too early on a Sunday morning – I like my sleep in. We have tried later starts, evening services – and still they don’t come. There’s nothing for my children – so we offer Sunday schools, youth programs, holiday programs – and they still don’t come. There’s too much negativity – too much talk about sin – too much “thou shalt not”. So we stop talking about sin – start being more entertaining – and still they don’t come. In fact what happens is that the ones that ARE coming don’t like the changes and we lose them too.
Personally, I think we are starting at the wrong end. We spend so much time trying to find out why people AREN’T coming that we can neglect those who ARE coming. Perhaps our starting point should be – why are YOU coming? And that’s what Paul is doing in today’s reading. What is it about Church, or rather, what is it about faith in God that keeps YOU wanting to come to church and being with other Christians and experiencing this time with God?
Let me start by affirming – coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian. And not coming to church doesn’t make you a non-Christian. But church attendance, whether it’s weekly, fortnightly, monthly or just Christmas and Easter, or to baptise their child, get married or attend a funeral, it is the only barometer we have to gauge how a person’s spiritual life is going.
So let’s look at what Paul says and often with Paul and other writers they leave the punch line till last. The most important part of what they want to say is the last thing they say so we don’t forget it. And the last thing he says is: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
This is the reason I believe. This is the reason I have faith in God. And going through these past 2 years – going through life and seeing all the tragedies that life has in store for myself and other people – what a comfort to know that there is something beyond this life. That Jesus has been raised from the dead – but not only Jesus but he is the first fruit of those who have died which means we too will follow Jesus into heaven.. How amazing to have that hope.
And even if this life has gifted you with a silver spoon from birth to death – there is still the matter of “what happens when I die”. Which is why Paul says: If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If this life is all there is then life is futile. If you have changed your life – given up opportunities because you’re a Christian but there is nothing different after you die – that’s why Paul says we should be pitied more than anyone else. Because at least others have done whatever they have wanted to do without considering – “what would Jesus do” in this situation.
Paul points out the meaning of only living for this life. What’s the point of working hard, earning a huge wage, sacrificing yourself and amassing huge assets and then dying and leaving it all behind?
This is what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.
For some people, perhaps many people, or possible all people, life is not a life of happiness and joy that it is often made out to be by advertisers of people laughing and enjoying themselves socialising out and about. Maybe it’s more like what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes – meaningless – but we’ll put on a brave front so no one finds out. And that what Paul feels sorrow for – for those whose only hope is in this life.
But Jesus today brings us a word of hope for what life can really be about for many if not all of us. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Maybe you haven’t achieved everything in life you wanted or you always seem to be just scraping by while others flourish but there is a greater gift awaiting you – the Kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Maybe you’ve seen others enjoying life while you’ve barely scraped through. Be assured that you’re invited to the great heavenly feast and it’s totally free because of Jesus.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Maybe your life has been a life of suffering and pain. Maybe you lost a loved one in recent times or you’ve been widowed for many years. St John, In Revelation, saw the new heaven that awaits us where there is no suffering or death.
St Paul assures us that our present suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that awaits us. And Paul would know because he was taken up to heaven to see the beauty of paradise and could not put into words what he saw. Christians are not to be pitied but envied because it is not for this life that we live but for the eternal life that Jesus, the first fruits has guaranteed for us. And that’s where I believe we start with in rejuvenating faith and the church. To show the world our joy and our hope and as St Peter says – to always be prepared to give the reason for the hope we have. The hope that has gotten us through these past 2 years and will continue to support us until we are in our heavenly home in the presence of our Lord.