Last Sunday, I had two different experiences with livestreaming. When I arrived at church at 9:30 am, Brian Sampson informed me that for some reason, he could not livestream to Facebook. So, I posted a note on the church Facebook site saying we had encountered a technical problem and that a videotape of the service would be available on YouTube later in the day. Then as the service unfolded, glitches in the videotaping were evident on the sanctuary’s TV screens. But despite these problems, we were able to load a video file to YouTube on Sunday afternoon.
Later at 2 pm, I logged onto a livestream of the funeral for the paternal grandfather of Kim’s two children, Katrina and Kerry, which was happening in Calgary at a funeral home. On my way to church, I had dropped Kim off at the house of Kerry and his girlfriend Carlyn, and the three of them had driven to Calgary for the funeral.
Unlike Sunday morning here, the afternoon service went off without a hitch, and it left behind a video of the event. This is one of the silver linings of the pandemic – the livestreaming and videotaping of funerals, memorials, and celebrations of life. Whenever the pandemic ends, I imagine this feature will persist.
The funeral home in Calgary uses a different platform for livestreaming than Mill Woods United. Since March 2020, we have been using Facebook Live; and last Monday, Brian Sampson discovered there had been a technical dispute between Facebook and one of the software programs he and Tim have been using for about the past year to livestream our services. Not only was he unable to livestream last week, posts on Facebook that had videotapes of our services from the past year were temporarily unavailable.
Happily, Facebook and the livestreaming software company resolved their dispute last Tuesday; older Facebook posts with videos from this church are once again accessible; and we assume livestreaming is working this morning.
The Calgary funeral home uses a different livestreaming platform than us – Vimeo, I believe. Brian tells me that Vimeo charges a bit for livestreaming, unlike Facebook Live, which is “free.” So at least for now, we are going to continue to use Facebook, with YouTube as a second depository of the resulting videotapes.
Over the past 22 months, we have encountered many problems and issues with livestreaming and videotaping; and Brian, Tim, and others have continued to find fixes and solutions, which I gratefully salute.
I am glad our livestreaming issues have been resolved; and I was glad to be able to participate live from home in the funeral for Jim Boyes Senior last Sunday afternoon in Calgary. I especially appreciated a slideshow of photographs; the eulogies and tributes offered by Jim Sr.’s children, by Katrina, and by another grandchild; seeing Kerry, who was one of the pallbearers; and seeing others like Kim who were there in person. I learned a lot and I appreciate the new insights I got into the lives of Kim’s children.
However, I didn’t like the minister who presided at the funeral. I appreciated his presiding skills, just not his theology. Using passages like the one we heard this morning from John, he said that death doesn’t end the lives of our egos but involves a transition to an eternal life for the ego.
Now, he didn’t use the term ego, which is Latin for “I,” and which became widely used in English 100 years ago when Sigmund Freud’s 1923 book “Das Ich und das Es” was translated from its original German into English as “The Ego and the Id.” Nor does the New Testament use this relatively recent concept. But the minister at the funeral stated — as do many others — that our lives on earth are just a brief passage to a much more important realm, which is the afterlife.
Like him, I am confident there is an afterlife. Many billions of people, and quadrillions of other individuated organisms, have died, and yet life goes on; and just as life flourished for billions of years before we were born, it will continue after we have died.
But I am sure the afterlife does not involve a persistence of our individual egos. Death ends one’s problems, I believe, which are associated with both the desires and fears of our egos; and with Grace, we can sometimes glimpse an end of these problems this side of the grave.
On the other hand, I could be wrong about this. For one, the New Testament often uses the term “eternal life,” as in this morning’s reading. So, what could the phrase mean?
In the passage from John today, Jesus says “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry; no one who believes in me will be thirsty . . . Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, and if you eat it, you’ll never die. I am the living bread come down from heaven. If any eat this bread, they will live forever; the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”
That seems straightforward. Church leaders like me often use the phrase “The Bread of Life” to refer to communion bread. But who knows what people think as they receive this sacrament? A thousand different things, I imagine.
At first blush, it may be comforting for us to think of joy-filled reunions with dead loved ones after we ourselves die. But then what? Millions, and quadrillions, and gazillions of further years of reunion? Even things we love — whether travel, or learning, or life in community — strike me as ridiculous and horrible when stretched forever. Whether the afterlife involved hellfire or an endless series of family suppers, it feels hellish to me when extended long enough.
By re-enacting the Last Supper of Jesus first told in Mark, Communion gives us space to imagine laying down the joys and burdens of life in moments of Grace this side of the grave; and to realize how all that we have — both the things we like and the things we don’t like — are gifts from human community and the cosmos.
We develop egos during infancy and childhood, and we continue to craft them in the fires of life ever after. But Love is much vaster than this, and at some point, we are forced to relinquish control and accept Love’s gifts.
Individual death enforces this relinquishment. But spiritual traditions can help us touch this freedom now. With Grace, we can taste eternity at any moment — not an eternity of endless learning, endless conflict, endless passion, and endless torment, but an eternity of acceptance and release.
I sometimes experience this during Communion and in fleeting but beautiful moments of love, grace, and insight.
So, does this mean that Communion marks the end of the road? In reflecting on baptism and confirmation over the last two Sundays, I talked about the necessary and difficult work of developing an ego during these stages. Today with Communion we have arrived at a stage where we enact the dissolution of our egos and our union with the God who is Love. But like all sacraments, this is only a ritual pointing us down the path we hope to travel.
Later stages — including marriage, confession, and last rites — remain. They can help in the inevitable but challenging work of knowing how to confront our egos and to find gracious moments in which their illusions are known and their weight laid aside, if only for a moment.
The next minister at Mill Woods United will have different perspectives; and just as I didn’t like the minister at Jim Sr.’s funeral last Sunday, I may not like some things about the next minister at this church. But that’s OK, is it not?
When I was called here more than eight years ago, I said I had been grasped by a Gospel that I wanted to preach, which is what I have tried to do; and just because this Gospel contradicts the ones preached at some other churches, doesn’t invalidate it for me.
Perhaps our egos — with all their desires for learning and growth, and all their fears of loss and failure — live forever in eternal realms. I am sure they don’t, but as in so many other areas, I could be wrong, and that’s OK, I believe.
We rely on a Higher Power for each moment of life. During Communion, I refer to this Higher Power as The Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing. They are symbols of the eternal source of Love we call God. But such ideas are only partial and probably distorted in some ways.
Regardless, funerals happen, and we take from them the gifts found in the words of eulogists and ministers. Sunday services occur, and people hear what they need to hear. Communion is served and people are given a chance to reflect on the strange and wondrous nature of our existence whether it be filled with pain or joy.
I will try to follow the Gospel for the rest of my life. Then I will die; my ego will be released; life will continue; and those who follow will find endless occasions to discuss sacred concepts, to praise eternal sources, and to receive the gifts of each moment in wonder and praise.
May it be so. Amen.