The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Easter Day 2017…the last one…

© 2014  Frank B Crumbaugh III 


​It’s funny how the mind and heart work…what leads to what, and how things are connected in thought and prayer…it’s seamless but not always logical. Not long ago, I was contemplating the conclusion of a specific ministry; as I said my prayers about that, and was listening, the prayer led me into a larger meditation on how we know when things begin and when they end- anything. There are lots of indices. One of the most common ways is to determine who’s first and who’s last.


Someone has to be first. Someone has to be last. With such distinctions we draw the boundaries of processes and events and periods of time. We understand an individual event like a footrace, both as the event itself elapses and in total, by the one who finishes first and the one who finishes last. We understand class rank by discovering who has generated the most accomplished record, and whose record sparkles the least. We understand a fundamental change in the human experience when we mark the firsts or lasts in human experience- the first person to eat an oyster, the first person to fire pottery, the last linen-covered bi-plane, the last incandescent light bulb, the last steam locomotive, and so forth. Personal vital statistics make records of when and where individual births and deaths occur- a lifetime on a small government form. Until we know when/how something began and when/how it ended, we have little sense of what it means or how to value it. So we mark the day/time/place that we understand to be a beginning and we note the same markers at the end. The great sweep of life around us makes more sense with first and last.

 

Florence Li Tim Oi was the first woman ordained an Anglican priest.[1]  Someone had to be. Roger Bannister was the first human being recorded as having run a mile in under 4 minutes.[2] Someone had to be. Charles Lindbergh was the first aviator to solo non-stop New York-Paris,[3] and Yuri Gagarin was the first human being to travel in space.[4] Someone had to be. Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb the Seven Summits.[5] Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh were the first to reach the Challenger Deep.[6]  Someone had to be. Robert M. Losey was the first American killed in World War II,[7] and Darwin Judge and Charles MacMahon were the last Americans killed in Viet Nam.[8] Someone had to be.

 

None of these human events, nor the lives in which we delineate them, are small. Each marks a tender boundary with the addition of a human face.

 

That last item- the last person to die in a war- was where my heart stopped wandering and my prayers re-focused. When it occurs, we don’t know that the victim is the last person killed. When they die they’re just the next- the latest- person claimed by the conflict. Later however, when the shooting has stopped, we take stock and realize who the last person to die was. That’s sobering. Anyone who has seen the violence of war abhors it, and the ones I know would gladly give their life as the last one killed if they had assurance that the fighting really would stop when they died. The staggering sacrifice of any human death in war seems magnified by the pathos of knowing it was the last. Someone had to be the one by whom the boundary was set- someone had to be last.

 

Jesus is the last man to die in the war on death. Someone had to be, and God willed that it should be His Son. Someone had to be the last one who faced death as all preceding humanity had- without the absolute assurance of Resurrection. Certainly, the prophetic witness can be interpreted in the light of His Resurrection as having foreseen Easter Day, but until Easter Day actually happened, it was speculative hope, not absolute assurance, that attended the notion of Resurrection. Someone had to be that last person. Some might say that having been resurrected, (and having made some intimations of resurrection)[9] the evidence suggests that Jesus didn’t die. Oh, no. He really did die; that’s the whole point. If He hadn’t really died, the Resurrection wouldn’t really be Resurrection. If one is not dead one cannot be raised. It would be no more than sideshow sleight-of-hand…a cosmic parlor trick. Jesus was a casualty in the war on death- the last casualty. As with any other such last wartime death, there is a particular poignancy and pathos that the last casualty in the war on death was God’s Son. In the war on death, someone had to declare of death by His own death “it is finished.”[10] That someone is Jesus.

 

Having set one boundary as the last person to die without the certainty of Resurrection,[11] Jesus sets another boundary, this time as the first. Someone had to be first, and in the case of the war on death it had to Jesus. If Jesus were not the first one raised, He would not, by definition, have been the last one to die in the war on death. The only way we know who the last one was is to see who the first raised is…adds vivid clarity to “the last shall be first”[12] doesn’t it?

 

Lazarus notwithstanding[13], Jesus is the first human being to be Resurrected. Being fully human as well as fully divine, Jesus is the last person to die crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”[14] in order to be that He might be first person who is ever described with “He is not here, but has Risen!”[15] Paul understands the universal, had-to-be-last-so-He-could-be-first nature of The Cross and The Empty Tomb when he writes to Rome: “The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”[16] Resurrected, Jesus is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead”[17] and what happens to Jesus personally happens now to us all, forever. His Resurrection provides to each his/her own resurrection- “we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”[18]

 

Jesus sets the end-point on death with His death. Jesus sets the starting-point on eternal life by being raised.

 

I am grateful to all souls who gave themselves as the last in any conflict, setting that boundary. I am more grateful than my words can say that Jesus was the last to die in the fight with death, setting the ultimate boundary. He is risen, and that means that I can be too…gives true depth to the phrase, “Thank you, Jesus!”

 

Love you. See you in Church.

 

FBC3+, 16 April 2017, being The Sunday of The Resurrection: Easter Day

 


[1] 25 January 1944, by The Rt. Rev’d Ronald Hall, Bishop of Victoria

[2] 3:59.4, 6 May 1954, Oxford

[3] 20-21 May 1927, 33½ hours, New York-Paris, in the Ryan monoplane Spirit of Saint Louis, reg. N-X-211

[4] 12 April 1961, one orbit of the Earth in Vostok 1

[5] 28 June 1992, finished the Seven Summits: Puncak Jaya, Mount Elbrus, Mount Vinson, Mount McKinley, Aconcagua, Everest, Kilimanjaro

[6] 23 January 1960, a depth of 35,797’ reached together on a single dive aboard bathyscaphe Trieste

[7] 21 April 1940, Dombås, Norway

[8] 29 April 1975, Marine Security Battalion/United States Embassy; killed together by a single rocket during attack on evacuation of US personnel, Tân Sơn Nhất Airbase, Saigon, Republic of South Viet Nam

[9] Luke 18:33  NRSV

[10] John 19:30  NRSV

[11] a promise expressed is hope and commitment; a promise fulfilled is the truth

[12] Matthew 20:16  NRSV

[13] Lazarus, being fully human and raised before Jesus’ Resurrection, died a second time. Lazarus was called back into the old limitations that include physical death, rather than being resurrected forward into Life outside any limits. However, Jesus’ death and resurrection provided the same gift for Lazarus as it has for us all, and given their mutual affection, I’m pretty sure that Lazarus is resurrected to eternal life.

[14] Psalm 22:1a  NRSV

[15] Luke 24:5b  NRSV

[16] Romans 6:10  NRSV

[17] Colossians 1:18  NRSV

[18] Romans 6:4  NRSV