March 2016 Rector’s Letter

03 Mar

March 2016

“Aaaawoooaaah!” And with that, the body fell back!  My years (1974-79) on the Isle of Man ended with two years working as an Assistant Nurse at a Psychiatric Hospital, the final year on night duty.  One of my tasks was to convey any patients who died during the night to the mortuary.  Most of those who died were the very elderly patients, and once they had been prepared I and a colleague would be taken off other duties to push a hospital trolley from the Ward to the Mortuary set on the outskirts of the hospital site, the route taking us along dark paths.  The Mortuary was very small with spaces for only two bodies.

On this occasion, my colleague and I had collected the deceased patient from the furthest Ward and on the way, he revealed that he found the job very scary.  We arrived at the Mortuary with our patient, unlocked the door, and manoeuvred the trolley into the confined space, ready to lift the patient onto the wooden pallet.  There was already another shrouded patient lying on the second pallet.  The trolley banged the corner of this pallet, and suddenly the patient lifted about 30 degrees off the pallet, and gave a loud wailing sigh “Aaaawoooaaah!” and with that, the body fell back!

I freely admit that I jumped.  Was it someone playing a trick?  No, it was clearly a dead patient.  I then realised that we had dislodged the build-up of internal gases by knocking the pallet with the trolley, sufficient to raise the body and expel the gases with the wail until the body re-settled.  I turned to my colleague with the words, “Well, that was pretty scary…” but the words died on my lips as I realised I had no colleague!  It later transpired he had fled, running 5 miles across the fields until he reached home and not returning until the following night.  I had to lock the trolley in the Mortuary and get another colleague to help lift the patient onto the pallet.  You can imagine the laughter from the other staff, especially when my colleague returned the following evening.

This month we celebrate Easter.  The basics are well known.  Jesus knows his end is imminent and says his goodbyes at his last supper on Maundy Thursday, giving us Communion and the abiding command to you love one another as I have loved you (The Bible, John 15.12) in the process.  Betrayed and arrested later that night, he is tried illegally overnight, found guilty on trumped up charges, flogged and crucified on Good Friday, dying that afternoon and being buried just before sundown.  The ladies wanted to dress the body properly – it was done in a rush – and as they were forbidden to work on the Sabbath (Saturday) and unable to see in the darkness of Saturday night, they approached the tomb at first light Sunday morning.  What they are expecting would bear more resemblance to my experience than to what they actually experienced.  They are expecting to open a tomb and find a battered body, the worse for 36 hours heat and decay.  Firstly they are disturbed to find the tomb open and the body gone, an angel providing commentary “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”  (Luke 24.5-6).  Secondly, they are even more disturbed to meet with Jesus, very clearly alive.  Nothing had prepared them for this: with a gas-driven corpse they could have coped, but a living talking friend who was comprehensively dead 3 days earlier?  At least two of the gospels record that their joy was mixed with fear.

Jesus’ resurrection is a game-changer.  Welded to him by faith, he identifies with us in our death and raises us with him in his resurrection.  The resurrection body he will give to us is as far removed from the aching shell we currently inhabit as real life is from the self-raising corpse.  None of the disciples believed at first; all were convinced by Jesus’ repeated appearances over the next forty days.  At Jesus’ arrest the disciples had fled to safety, like my colleague above.  After seeing his resurrection, they were unstoppable – stoned, executed, beaten, imprisoned, persecuted, exiled – nothing could prevent them from declaring new life in Christ.  These were not men and women who had seen an animated cadaver or who wished themselves into belief, but those persuaded by the evidence that Jesus was alive; by his resurrection had beaten death, paid our sin debt and raised us to new life, now and forever.  Here is the joy of Easter!

As Jesus had said earlier “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11.25-26)

Praying that you may find in Christ Jesus life eternal with peace and joy today and the courage to face every passing trial in his strength.

Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Simon Cox.

You can find the full text of the March Herald Magazine here