On Holy Saturday, April 23, 2011, I gave this homily at the memorial service of Ed Gamber.
Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve, in the Christian calendar, is the commemoration of the transition between Christ’s death and resurrection. It is an appropriate time for us to mark the transition between Ed’s death and resurrection also. It is the day on which traditionally Holy Baptism is celebrated for those candidates who have been prepared through Lent, so that they may receive Holy Communion on Easter Day. Baptism is the symbolic dying to sin and the rising to new life. Ed was baptized and has died to sin and is rising to a new life. He goes before us to enter into the life of heaven. He knows by sight, what we only know by faith, the reality of the promises of Hebrews 12:22-23.
“You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”
How do we know that? The common lectionary reading selected for Holy Saturday is 1 Peter 4:1-8. Verse 6 reads: “This is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they may be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” (NIV) “Why was the Gospel preached to those who are dead? In order that, although in the body they received the sentence [of death] common to men, they might in the spirit be alive with the life of God.” (NEB) “For that is why the dead also had the gospel preached to them – that it might judge the lives they lived as men and give them also the opportunity to share the eternal life of God in the spirit.” (JBP)
In other words: the preaching of the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus, which Ed received and believed upon, enables him to go through death to share the eternal life of God in the spirit. This life is only a prelude to life after death. The gospel is preached to all, including to those now dead, because ultimately this life is only a prelude to a greater and endless world beyond. We affirm in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, that Jesus descended to the dead, and on the third day he rose again. We believe that for Ed as well, because Jesus has pioneered the way for us.
I was born and raised in a town that was established in a gold rush. Opposite my bedroom window was a statue of a gold prospector with his pick and shovel, pointing towards the hills where the gold was found. It is called the Pioneer Memorial, commemorating all those who came to the area in the 1860’s looking for gold. The inscription on the base of the memorial reads like this: “Where the vanguard rests today, the rearguard will rest tomorrow.”
Jesus is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2, RSV) He has gone before us to blaze the trail for us to follow. Ed has gone ahead of us to join him. We will follow in our turn. He is the vanguard. We are the rearguard. Where he rests today, we will rest tomorrow. This promise is pure gold.
When Jesus said goodbye to his disciples at the Last Supper in the upper room, St. John records that he “knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” (John 13:1) That is what Ed has done: left this world to go to the Father. And the Father will welcome him with open arms. Ed will share God’s eternal life in the spirit. Thanks be to God for this wonderful prospect.