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Toshiki Toma

You only live twice

Flutt 17. apríl 2017 · í enskri messu í Breiðholtskirkju

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

1.
“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” If you have ever attended the English Anglican Service that is held at the last Sunday of each month at the Hallgríms-church, you must have heard this phrase in the service. This is considered “the mystery of faith” and it is often used also in Roman Catholic mass or Lutheran service.

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. It is declared in order to remember the fundamentally important events, focusing the life of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus is a mystery that goes beyond our understanding but at the same time it is the good news that fill us with tremendous joy after deep grief.

The term “death and resurrection” is commonly used figuratively in everyday life. For example, suppose that a famous football player gets injured and cannot play for a long time. When he gets well and plays fantastically again, we may say: “He has been resurrected!”

In fact, even though we don’t use the words “death” or “resurrection”, our lives are series of little deaths and resurrections. One person might do very well in his job; then encounters failure; but rises up again and regains status. A healthy person gets sick, stays in hospital, then makes a recovery. Our lives are like a fabric woven of disappointments, hope, sadness and joy.

But every life will face the final death at the end. And the work of weaving stops in silence. Death bounds our earthly lives. We can live our lives inside the borders drawn by death. Whether a believer or a non-believer, the fact that our earthly lives are limited applies to everyone, without exemption.

2.
Nevertheless, we are not necessary always aware of our own death in our everyday lives, are we? We like to avoid thinking of our own deaths, or the deaths of our loved ones, even unconsciously.

I guess that most of you aren’t acquainted with the earlier James Bond 007 movies. The latest film, “Spectre”, is the 24th film in the series. The fifth story took place in Japan. That was in 1967. Most of you were not born yet, were you? The title was “You Only Live Twice”. This sounds a bit strange, since usually we say: “You only live once”. Life is a one-time opportunity. I interpreted the title as meaning that James Bond could survive very dangerous situations that would kill most people, so it was like “James Bond can live twice”.

But later I learned where the title had come from really: it was from a Haiku, a Japanese short poetry form, that Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond stories, wrote himself. And Bond is reading it in the story: “You only live twice. Once when you’re born, and once when you look death in the face.”

So this was a little bit more philosophical than I had thought. It means that one can think of his life only twice, when one is born and when one encounters a real possibility of actual death. Maybe it’s true for most of us. We don’t really think whot it is to live untill we feel its end near.

A few years ago, I watched another old film after Akira Kurosawa, a famous Japanese film director. The film was made in 1956 and the title was “Ikiru” or “To Live”. It was a comical and human drama.

An old man lives and works without any passion. He is called “the mummy” by his colleagues because he seems so lifeless. He is tired of his life. But one day he finds out that he has cancer, so his days are numbered. After that he wakes up to life again, and does many things that he would have done before if he had had will to do so.

Finally he succeeds in having a park made in his neighborhood where children can play, which had been a dream of the people in that area for a long time. And the old man dies in that park in peace, having small happiness of his achievement. He began to live after looking death in the face.

A person who has felt his own death close to him, may ponder well about what it means to live. Perhaps we in Icelandic society should try to listen to refugees and asylum seekers more often and more carefully. There are many around us who have literally gone through “death situation” in their lives.

Nobody would wish to experience such a “death situation”, but at the same time we must realize what a very precious thing it is for us to listen to their accounts. Refugees and asylum seekers have “some things” that the others do not.

3.
“You only live twice. Once when you’re born, and once when you look death in the face.” But not everybody has a chance to think over the meaning of life when his own death nears. Many lose their lives suddenly, without a moment to reflect on their lives. Many are forced to die in such circumstances that they are unable to reflect the matter appropriately.

Natural disasters often deprive us of life with very short notice – or any notice at all. Many children have been killed in the war in Syria. So sad, but more will be killed. Many small babies are dying of the starvation in Africa every day. Do they have a chance to ponder the meaning of life in the sense we are talking about? No, I don’t think so.

When we see scenes of dead people after big natural disasters; dead bodies of children lying in the sand and blood; or dying babies with awfully skinny bodies; it seems as if death has absolute control over our existence. Such scenes look like death is putting tags on each person, upon which stand: “no value”.

And we might think that life is weak against the power of death. We might feel that life is just a small firework in the cold black darkness; that its light lasts only a brief moment, and nothing more than that. And if we really yield to this feeling, then death wins. That is the victory of death.

And this is the thing that Jesus did challenge. In some religions, such as the religion practiced in Egypt in ancient times; or in some schools of thought in Japanese Buddhism; they think about the world of the dead, and try to guide the newly dead man to a safe place in that world.

For instance, there is the custom of putting money in the coffin before a funeral takes place, so that the dead man can pay the gate fee on the way to the safe place in the world of the dead. We might say that this is an effort to find the best condition in the world of the dead and aim for that.

Or other people, including scientists, have been making effort to find a way to avoid the death, namely to live forever as a human person on this earth. That is an effort to avoid the death.

But Jesus’ way is fundamentally different. Jesus has broken the rule of death itself. He liberates us from the tyranny of death.
Jesus did not remove death from our lives. Death still exists. And we have to die when our time comes. What Jesus did is, instead of taking death away, he gave death a positive – and creative – new meaning.

Jesus said: “Truly, I tell all of you emphatically, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces a lot of grain.”(Jn. 12:24) Here death is not the destination of life, but is defined as the beginning of new life.

Namely, Jesus is not trying to avoid death, but he is trying to open the way to a new understanding of death. He dies himself, and brings more new life out of death. And this new life is the life that makes us alive as Christians today.

4.
This new life that Jesus delivers through his death on the cross and his resurrection is of course for us who follow Jesus. But moreover, it is even for those who don’t know Jesus yet. How can we say so? Because God our Father says this: “I’ve loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I’ve drawn you with gracious love.”(Jer. 31:3)

God loves us with his “everlasting love”. His love is beyond time and place. You know that, Jesus, the Son of God, died for us a long time before we were born into this earth. He loves us even before we were born. Following Jesus is an important decision for each of us today, but it is never the condition for God loving us. His love is unconditional.

An outstanding theologian and spiritual thinker, Father Henri Nouwen, whom I mention sometimes in my talks, says that it is a fundamental truth that God loves us with his everlasting love, which shows what kind beings we are really. No matter whether we feel it or not, if we believe it or not, we are beings that belong to God from the beginning to eternity.

Nouwen says that the lifetime given to us on earth is just a part of eternity, when we can also respond to God, saying: “We love you, too”. I would like to say that instead, our lifetime on earth is the period when we should think about what it is to live our lives.

Jesus says in the Gospel according to Luke: “Those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead (…) cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Lk. 20:35-36)

Jesus has broken death’s tyranny over our lives and given us the new life of his resurrection. We are not only invited to everlasting life, but we have already begun to receive it.

The everlasting life that Jesus gives us is not life in the world of dead. It is life in the Kingdom of God our Father. We only live twice: but our second lives are not subject to death, since we live in the Kingdom of God.

Now on this Easter day, we confirm this precious grace from Jesus and receive it with our gratitude and joy. And by doing so, we are able to live through this life on earth to its full extent.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.

Texts:

Jeremiha 31:3

The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

Matthew 28:5-7

Responding to the women, the angel said, “Stop being frightened! I know you’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead. He is going ahead of you into Galilee, and you will see him there. Remember, I have told you!”

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