"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sermon for May 22nd

"Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 
Poor Philip,
After the feeding of the five thousand
After seeing Lazarus raised from the dead,
After seeing the whole of Jerusalem welcome Jesus like a king,

Philip still doesn’t understand Jesus

He’s given up his life to follow him
And he’s still not clear exactly what it is he’s given up his life for

Philip is with Jesus and the rest of the disciples,
In the upper room,
On the eve of Passover.
Philip is eating with Jesus at the Last supper,

And he says:
“Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 
Jesus, he seems to say,
Jesus, after all that I’ve seen
And all that I’ve heard,

I just need one more thing,
Just one more thing and I can be really, really certain.

I imagine Jesus cocking his head a little to the side
With sad eyes
Slowly shaking his head as he says;

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”

If you have ever struggled with your faith
Or doubted God’s existence
Or God’s goodness
You have a friend in Philip

Of course, Philip hasn’t seen the whole story play out yet
In this story, he hasn’t known the crucifixion
And most importantly,
He hasn’t known the Resurrection.
But even with his doubts
Even in his ignorance of what is to come.
Philip has dedicated himself to Jesus.

He’s made a choice with his heart and with his gut
And even though he yearns for more
And wants assurances,
He's still trying to follow Jesus,
He’s still a disciple.

For too long,
The “church” has often looked at faith
As a set of propositions
that you have to accept.

To be a Christian you have to believe x, y, z…
As if faith lived in your mind
As though God were some kind of rational argument you could prove
Like a mathematical formula.

And we have spent so much time and energy
As Christians
And as church
Arguing over our God formulas,
That we sometimes fail to see God right in front of us.

“Have I been with you all this time, and you still do not know me?”

Now please,
Don’t misunderstand me.
I don’t think doctrine is unimportant
Or unnecessary

It is important,
Critically important for us to begin to work out
Who and What God is
How God acts
And what God expects.

Doctrine is essential for faith,
But doctrine and faith aren’t the same thing,
And I would be willing to bet
That not a single person in this place
Is here because someone
gave you a neat tidy argument
that proved

once and for all,

without ever a second thought,

That God and Jesus
And all that goes along with it
Are real.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt,
It’s certainty
If we were absolutely certain,

Beyond all doubt,

We wouldn’t need faith.

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip,
and you still do not know me?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

It is Jesus’ love that has bound the disciples to him,
not his logical analysis

And, of course,
Philip knows that Jesus isn’t like other people

Philip knows,
from the evidence of his own eyes
and his own experience
that Jesus has unimagined power

and Philip even thinks Jesus is the Messiah,
“He is the one foretold by Moses and the prophets”

That’s what Philip told his friend Nathaniel
on the day he met Jesus for the first time!

Philip has all the right beliefs
But he is struggling with his faith

Because what drives his question,
His demand for just one more thing

Is the question:
Why should I invest my time and energy with you?

And Jesus answers;
Believe me that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me;
but if you do not,
then believe me because of the works themselves.

Why should we trust Jesus and follow him?

Well, Because he is God,

but if you are struggling with that idea,
Then believe and follow Jesus
because of the things he has done.

A little further on in the story,
Jesus tells the disciples that those who would love him
will do the things that he has done

And in the doing of those things,
they will be united with Jesus.

And being united with Jesus
Means being united with God.

Following Jesus isn't easy, it can be downright hard,
But Jesus says we don't have to do it alone 

Jesus promises a helper,
The Holy Spirit.

the blind see,
the lame walk,
lepers are made clean,
the deaf hear,
the dead are brought back to life,
and the Good News is preached to the poor.

Those are the things that Jesus did

But more than that,

Jesus prayed
And worshipped
And sought to do God’s will at all times.

Jesus broke bread with sinners and outcasts
He loved the marginal ones
And called into account the powerful
And those who would use God
To oppress the powerless

God has given us the ability to do all these and more

Jesus told Philip,
“Very truly, I tell you,
the one who believes in me
will also do the works that I do
in fact,
will do greater works than these”

Jesus' call to us isn’t to believe for the sake of believing.
It’s a call to doing
It isn’t about agreeing with every word of the Nicene Creed
It isn’t about never having doubts
It certainly isn’t about blindly accepting what the “Church” says

It is about getting to know people
And helping them where you can
And allowing yourself to be helped when you should

It’s prayer and worship and practice and reflection

And the promise given to the disciples,
Is a promise given to us as well…

That in following Jesus, and
Doing what Jesus did,

We meet God

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What is the Anglican Communion?

This isn't a normal post, but a paper I wrote for one of my classes prompted by the ongoing discussion about the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant.

In the current debate over the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant, the most common argument against it is that it proposes a centralization of powers that is in some way “un-Anglican.” What is meant by this is that the long-held understanding of Anglicanism generally, and the Communion particularly, is that Churches are autonomous entities existing within particular boundaries, usually confined to a single nation. As the covenant seeks to create an international Church structure with real power it is claimed that this would be an abandonment of such an understanding of what an Anglican Church is.

But where does such an idea come from? Why are Anglican Churches confined, more or less, to national boundaries? And relatedly, why can only one Anglican Church exist within any such established boundaries? At the heart of these is the question, where does the locus of authority lie within Anglicanism? And, must it always be so?

At the heart of Anglicanism is episcopy. Historically, this arose out of the long habits of Church established prior to the Reformation. It would seem that Henry VIII’s desire to secure a male heir through the instrument of a new wife was the source of the Church in England’s split from the Roman hierarchy rather than any real reforming zeal on Henry’s part. It should be remembered that the Pope had granted Henry the title “Defender of the Faith” because of his defense of the Papacy in the book Assertio Septum Sacramentorum that sought to dispute the agitations of Martin Luther.

In the words of Philip Thomas’ essay in The Study of Anglicanism, the reforms of the Church in England that led to the formation of the Church of England were done within a three-part set of convictions; these were:
First there was the belief that the Church of England had a continuous history reaching back to Augustine of Canterbury and beyond.

Second, it was held that the life of the Church must be drawn into renewed conformity with the teaching of the Bible, and that this could be done without breaking the continuity of faith and history to which it was heir.


Third, while abuses were to be corrected, things of value were to be retained and therefore ceremonies and ideas which were not explicitly contradicted by scripture were simply left open to the continuing evaluation of the Christian community

Evidence of these can be seen in the Parliamentary Acts that formally endorsed the division of the Church of England from the Roman hierarchy. In the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Parliament declared that the Bishop of Rome had no more authority in England than any other foreign Bishop and declared the king to be the “only supreme head in earth of the Church of England.” Even earlier, in the Ecclesiatical Licenses Act of 1533, Parliament added this disclaimer to the Act that essentially prevented the payment of tithes to the Roman Church, that:
Provided always that [neither] this act nor any thing or things therein contained shall be hereafter interpreted or expounded that your grace, your nobles, and subjects, intend by the same to decline or vary from the congregation of Christ's Church in any things concerning the very articles of the catholic faith of Christendom (25 Henry VIII, c.21)

That Bishops were part and parcel of the received tradition of Church life is undisputed and certainly one of the things of value to be retained. However, that does not mean that episcopy went unexamined or that the nature of episcopy was not a concern for the early Anglican divines. In the wake of the Elizabethan Settlement, Richard Hooker, in his book The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, noted about the office of Bishop that;
A Bishop is a minister of God, unto whom with permanent continuance there is given not only power of administering the Word and Sacraments, which power other Presbyter have; but also a further power to ordain ecclesiastical persons, and a power of chiefty in government over Presbyters as well as Laymen (Book VII, ch. 3)

In Hooker’s formulation we see a retreat from the idea of the Bishop as prince of the Church whose primary function is to be a member of the councils of state, but rather that the Bishop’s primary function is pastoral. Essentially, the Bishop is a presbyter who has some extra responsibilities.

But even Hooker believes that the office of Bishop and the inherent authority of such office to commission ministers and regulate the teaching of the faith derives from the Apostolic ministry of the disciples called personally by Jesus.
For in process of time the Apostles gave Episcopal authority, and that to continue always with them which had it…
The Apostles therefore were the first which had such authority, and all others who have it after them in orderly sort are their lawful successors (Book VII, ch. 4)

Episcopy, even under the Calvinist Church of Edward VI, seemed a given. But as the Reformation played out through the sixteenth and into the seventeenth century, it came increasingly under assault and was most in danger as the demands of Puritan reformers escalated. James I was famously known to have remarked “No Bishops, No King” when such Reformers pushed for a Presbyterian structure for the Church. And as tensions continued to grow between the Established Church and the Puritan Reformers, James insight was proven correct as Both ArchBishop Laud and King Charles I were executed in the convulsions of the English Civil War. However, as it turns out, the Protectorate under Cromwell did not usher in a period of peace and prosperity and many in England were dissatisfied with the experiment in Republican government. The return of the monarchy with the ascent of Charles II to the throne also signaled the return of episcopy.

I have shown that the office of Bishop was a continuance of the structure of the Church from the Medieval Church through to the Reformation Church, and despite one short period when it was officially outlawed, it has remained close to the heart of the Anglican ethos. But what was the scope of authority of the Bishop? Traditionally, Bishops have held sway over particular geographical areas. That this structure evolved from the organization of the Roman Empire in which the Church first arose is undisputed and beyond the scope of this paper.

However, if the authority of the Bishop is derived from that of the Apostles then there is a tension because the Apostles authority was not necessarily geographically limited. Again, Hooker speaks of this in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity;
Now even as pastors, so likewise Bishops being principal pastors, are either at large or else with restraint: at large when the subject of their regiment is indefinite, and not tied to any certain place; Bishops with restraint are those whose regiment over the Church is contained within some definite local compass, beyond which compass their jurisdiction reacheth not

What Hooker seems to be saying is that while Bishops have a role in the governance of the whole Church, their specific authority can be limited. In the Church of England, the limits of that authority were determined by the power of the Crown (and by extension, Parliament). This is most clearly stated in the Ordination ceremony of a Bishop as found in even the earliest Prayer Book;
And then the Kynges mandate to the Archebisshoppe for the consecracion shalbe read. And the othe touching the knowledging of the kinges supremacie, shalbe ministred to the person elected, as it is set oute in the Order of Deacons. And then shalbe ministred also, the othe of due obedience unto the Archebisshoppe, as foloweth. (BCP 1549)

And despite the travails of the Puritan challenge to Episcopal governance that animated much religious discussion of the seventeenth century, the basic idea of the office of Bishop, especially the idea that the office of Bishop is subordinate to the Crown continued in the revision of 1662 that was created in the wake of the Restoration;
Then shall the ArchBishop demand the King’s (Queen's) Mandate for the Consecration, and cause it to be read. And then shall be ministered unto them the Oath of due obedience to the ArchBishop, as followeth,(BCP 1662)

A central concern of the Reformation was the need for the laity to participate fully in the religious life themselves. In some ways, the structure of the medieval Church created a system where the role of the laity was to support those who were religious on their behalf. Monastics took on the diaconal role of service, presbyters carried out the prayers and mediated with God through the sacraments, and Bishops served to maintain the governance of the system and represented the Church to civil administrators.

In the Reformation, these roles were altered so that the Church’s role became teacher and pastor for the laity, guiding them into the holy life previously limited to clerics. As Jewel noted in his Apology of the Church of England;
we believe that there be divers degrees of ministers in the Church; whereof some be deacons, some priests, some Bishops; to whom is committed the office to instruct the people, and the whole charge and setting forth of religion.

The Reformers, however, needed a bulwark of power to enable them to stand against the Roman hierarchy. In all cases, the Reformers turned to sympathetic civil rulers who, like the Church, were seen as holding their authority by God’s grace. This was true in England as can be seen in the reforms and counter-reforms of the Reformation era from Henry VIII through the Glorious Revolution.

The close alliance between Church and Crown then was an important and central aspect of the Church of England, having survived the interregnum of the Republic and Protectorate. Thomas Cranmer, even as the flames were about to be put to his martyr’s pyre had this admonition:
The second exhortation is, that next unto God, you obey your king and queen, willingly and gladly, without murmur and grudging. And not for fear of them only, but much more for the fear of God: Knowing, that they be God's ministers, appointed by God to rule and govern you. And therefore whoso resisteth them, resisteth God's ordinance.

But the consequence of this is that the authority of the Church became bound to the Authority of the Crown, meaning that though the Church might claim catholicity, it in fact was limited, or as Hooker put it, restrained. An episcopal Anglican Church was thus bounded by the extent of English royal power, and more importantly to willingness to be bound by fealty to the English Crown.

Thus the Reformation had the effect of implanting the notion that Church and State were inextricably bound, and this can be seen throughout Protestant Europe where each state created and established a Church to serve the religiosity of its citizens. Thus, the inheritance of the Reformation is that its progeny have a tendency to regard themselves as the “true Church” for a particular nation.

Historically we can see the results of this in the case of the Non-Jurors who refused to swear loyalty to the joint monarchy of Mary and William as well as in the (ineffective) efforts of the Church of Ireland to undermine Roman Catholicism and in the struggles of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, which was long regarded as the “English Kirk.”  This linking of Crown and Church became an important issue as the English Church followed English traders and settlers around the globe to the far-flung colonial territories acquired by England, and later Great Britain in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.

In the wake of the American Revolution, the Anglican Church, which had been on the cusp of denominational dominance, nearly ceased to exist. The most distinguishing aspect of Colonial American Anglicanism was surely the lack of Bishops. All of America, in fact all of the Empire was nominally under the supervision of the Bishop of London. Anyone seeking to be ordained needed to go to England, which was a hazardous enterprise as one of every five men who set off to be ordained were lost at sea.

What this meant is that parishes exercised far greater control over their communal lives than did those back in England, and many were not served regularly by a priest. And of what few priests there were, the vast majority abandoned their offices as the Revolution spread because they could not, in good conscience, go against their ordination vows that bound them to the English Crown.

Those who wished to continue in the worship traditions of the Church of England were at a loss as to how to continue. William White, the rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia was an early leader in attempts to reconstitute the Church. He wrote an important tract entitled The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered. In it he laid out a potential governance structure that, though it assumed a role for Bishops, relied on democratic governance by the laity and clergy combined.

White’s essential point was that without the Crown, the Church was reduced to a voluntary association, and that without the ability to consecrate Bishops, at least in the short term, the Church should establish structures that would foster “union and good government.” However, White’s vision was not alone in perceiving how a disestablished Anglican Church might be structured. Samuel Seabury of New York believed that, rather than a voluntary association, the Church was established by Christ through the agency of the Apostles. Thus, the role of Bishop was essential to the ordering of the Church and for the maintenance of fidelity to the Apostles and the earthly ministry of Jesus.

The Protestant Episcopal Church was organized along the lines of White’s vision, but later amended to the satisfaction of Seabury and his party by adding a separate House of Bishops alongside the House of Deputies, thus preserving the dignity and necessity of the office of Bishop.  But it was not just in America that the concerns of the link between Church and Crown were to cause problems. As English colonies grew, local Anglican Churches also grew, and learning from the mistake of not providing Bishops to the American colonies, the Crown began to appoint Bishops to these colonial Churches.

But this did not turn out to be a long lasting solution, because as the colonies began to get responsible government, they also acquired partisan residents, some of whom did not like the Crown and Church of England being integrated so closely in their religiosity. The issue came to ahead in the faraway south African colonies in a dispute between Archbishop Gray and Bishop Colenso that was taken all the way to the Privy Council. In the case of Gray-vs-Long, in 1861, the Privy Council ruled that the Church of England’s authority went no further than the boundaries of England.

As we see in these cases, the primary appeal within Anglican Churches has been to follow in the footsteps of the “mother Church” towards addressing national concerns first and foremost. In all of the early colonial Churches, such as the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in the unestablished Scottish Episcopal Church governance by Synods was established that included the voices of laity and clergy as well as bishops. This too was the form in England where the role of the Crown in Church governance was effectively appropriated by Parliament. I would suggest that, just as in Parliament, the clergy and laity in Synod would naturally turn almost their exclusive attention towards being “the Church” only within their own national spheres.

In the United States, throughout the nineteenth century, the Episcopal Church developed several unrealized schemes to unite all Protestants under the leadership of the Episcopal Church. The first of these were the proposals of William Augustus Muhlenberg, submitted as a petition to the General Convention of 1853. This petition urged greater variety of worship styles in order to appeal to “the low classes of our population” as well as the recruitment of clergy from other denominations who would be ordained by Episcopal Bishops but who would be relieved of some canonical requirements. Despite support from the House of Bishops, this proposal was soundly defeated by the House of Deputies.

The next most prominent was a plan put forth by William Reed Huntington, elaborated in two major works; Church-Idea: An Essay Towards Unity and A National Church. Huntington believed that the Episcopal Church was uniquely suited to be the National Church, in part because “The Church of the Anglo-Saxon…[was] a plant of hardy growth, … true as steel”. Huntington’s proposals are the Basis of the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral and the inspiration for the building of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

In both of these proposals, rather than truly looking for ways to bridge differences and affect Christian unity and catholicity, the Episcopal Church was essentially inviting other Christians to shut down their own churches and join the Episcopal Church.

Arising at the same time though was a desire amongst the bishops to forge and maintain closer ties internationally. At the initiation of Provincial Synod of the Canadian Church in 1865, Archbishop Longley of Canterbury invited 150 bishops from British colonial Churches and the United States to attend a conference at Lambeth Palace in London. He made it clear though that this meeting would not be for the purpose of enacting canons or making binding decisions.

As well, the Oxford Movement and the Anglo-Catholic impulse attempted to provide a counter to the narrow provincial concerns of the various national Churches within Anglicanism. In response to British government plans to reorganize the Church of Ireland, John Henry Newman and others wrote the Tracts for the Times. In the first Tract, Newman wrote;
Should the Government and Country so far forget their GOD as to cast off the Church, to deprive it of its temporal honours and substance, on what will you rest the claim of respect and attention which you make upon your flocks?

Newman and the Anglo-Catholics that would follow were not arguing for a particular ritual piety but rather for an understanding of the Church that transcended the provincial concerns of the national Church. And, relatedly, reminding their readers that the Church, as Samuel Seabury had said in the arguments around the founding of the Episcopal Church of the United States, that Church is the Body of Christ that rests upon the earthly authority of the Apostles given them by Jesus.

Returning to the questions at the beginning of this essay, ‘why is the Covenant un-Anglican?’, we see that from its earliest incarnation in the Reformation, that the English religious impulse was essentially nationalistic, seeing the primary basis of their religious structures not in the full compass of Western catholicity, but in the provincial religious history of their own Island. Further, we see that in the English desire to conjoin the Nation and the Church they institutionalized structures whose very basis was limited to the national boundaries. These political and ecclesiastical ideas have been handed down to the inheritor states of the British Empire and their inheritor Churches as well.

In the same way that no American would tolerate multiple national governments (after all, “For the Union” was the rallying cry of the American Civil War) we seem unwilling to tolerate a non-national church. The long history of American anti-Catholic bias also bears this out, where as recently as 1960, John F. Kennedy had to answer concerns that the Pope would be telling him how to govern the United States. The corollary of this, and also arising out of the historical English experience, is a desire to see episcopy as the valid and true type of Church structure and a tendency to see the ‘episcopal’ Church as best suited to unite a fractured Christianity to conform the civil to the ecclesial society.

At the same time, the Church has been regularly reminded of its Apostolic Foundation and that it is meant to transcend worldly political and civil identities. Thus these two tension reverberate throughout the history of the Anglican experience. They are once again operative in the debate over the Anglican Covenant. Anglicanism, at its best, has sought to walk a dual path of being the Church, catholic and apostolic and being the church in a particular place and time. The fear of the Covenant of those who oppose it is that it will be a tool of dominance that favors the centralizing tendencies of being catholic. The fear of those in favor is the dissolving of unity inherent in following only our own provincial lights without regard to consequences of those to whom we are in deepest relationship.

For my part, I do not believe that the Covenant is un-Anglican as its motives are clearly within the trajectory of those who have supported the catholicity of the Church. At the same time it is an innovation and the question remains as to whether it is really needed. This particular covenant seems to overlook the long Anglican tradition of heeding the Spirit as voiced through the laity, whether through Parliament or Synod.

However, I do believe that a lessening of the nationalistic impulse within Anglicanism would be for the better. It is one thing for the whole of the Church in a particular place and time to have voice, it is quite another to suggest that any such body has the sole right to speak for the Anglican impulse within any man-made boundaries. Catholicity and locational specificity need not be enemies.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

imago dei

I'll try to have some commentary on this later, but I was very moved by this short film and found the experiment with the baby dolls especially heartbreaking.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflection of Bin Laden's death

I just read that Osama Bin Laden was killed by US forces in Pakistan, ending a nearly ten year long manhunt.  I was just coming to faith in the time of the 9/11 attacks.  My going to church was not a response to that, as my conversion was already underway.  But I do wonder now how my formation has been shaped by that day and by the wars that were unleashed in its wake.  I also wonder how the church's response or non-response has shaped my thinking onthe role of the church in the world.  At the height of the 2004 election campaign, it was hard to tell some Sundays whether I was going to hear the Word of God or a Democratic party campaign address.  At the same time, I have prayed on many Sundays for the loved ones of parishoners who were serving in the various wars, that they might come home safely and for those who did not.  And still, the service around July 4th almost always makes me cry, and I choke up singing; unable to give voice to the words because of the emotions within.

A long time ago, in a world where we worried about Soviet communism, I myself sat cocooned within a submarine, somewhere in the Atlantic ocean, ready to rain nuclear death upon nameless millions on behalf of my country.  We never did of course, and many will argue that it was because we were prepared to do so that it never happened.  They may be right, but I'm no longer so sure.  I've met lots of people from the formerly soviet Eastern Europe and Russia, and none yet have seemed deserving of death by nuclear weapons.  I know they were willing to do the same to me, and yet from the perspective of today it is hard to see why we should have been so willing to spend so much of our time, treasure and talent on such an endeavor.  I am pretty sure that we should have prayed the prayer for our enemies more often (it's on p816 of the Book of Common Prayer), it goes like this;
For our Enemies
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge;

and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Over the past few months, the people of the Middle East have risen up in several countries and demanded release from the oppression of their governments.  Many, too many, suggest these folks are in some way not capable of democratic and republican forms of government.  Mostly such comments seem to me to be the manifestation of an irrational fear of Islam.  It seems ironic that people who argue for a greater inclusion of their own religous beliefs in the political realm would argue against other peoples desire for the same.  People are driven to violence because of the brokenness and sinfulness of human nature, not because of the inherent tendencies of their religion.  There's a story about a guy named Jesus who was executed at the behest of his religous authorities that speaks well to this.

In some ways, Osama Bin Laden is already a figure of the past.  his death will not end the long American wars in Southwest Asia.  But in the uprisings of the Arab Spring, it seems the Islamic people have already rejected his vision.  His way is really of the past, when, as always, the only available path is forward.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

O, death

"It's a hell of a thing to have a doctor tell you, 'your wife is deceased."  A man said this to me recently in my role as hospital chaplain.  I was with him as the doctor said it and held his hand as he heard it.  And as hard as it is to hear, I know it is also hard to say.  Often at deaths, for reasons a little obscure to me, I reflect on the medieval paintings of the danse macabre, especially one by Bernt Notke.
There is a sense in the painting of an intimate familiarity with death that seems alien and strange to our modern culture.  I think that part of our growing reluctance to face death as a culture is our growing reluctance to embrace the faith of the risen Jesus.  I think this true even amongst those who profess faith, because often their language is about their loved one "being in heaven," "being in a better place," "looking down at us."  Even in our shrunken faith we are unwilling to face the lifelessness of death.  The biblical tradition seems to me to suggest theat when we die, we're dead, winked out and that it is on the 'Last Day,' that the dead will once again rise to life.

Frankly, it's not an especially comforting doctrine in a time of grief.  At death, we don't want to acknowledge or accept the actual loss.  We want to think that, in some way, the dead are still participating in our lives, still accessible to us in some way.  I know that when my loved ones have died, that's how I felt.  Increasingly though, I am coming to peace with a death that awaits the final day and an acceptance, at least intellectually, that I won't be looking down from heaven, beatifically, on those I will leave behind.  But I also think that that man was right, it's a hell of a thing to hear.