Collateral Beauty: A Pastoral Meditation for Memorial Day

It is a weekend for remembering.

And for those of us whom God has claimed in Christ Jesus, the most important thing for us to remember is that there’s life even in death – “collateral beauty,” the odd-sounding term I’ve shared with you before.

Believing in collateral beauty is to hold fast to the notion that even something as tragic as death and loss can reveal moments of deep meaning and surprising beauty – unintended or “collateral” beauty that’s set in motion by God’s grace in spite of sin, failure, and doubt.

Doubt was plentiful, a few years ago, when wildlife managers decided to reintroduce into Yellowstone National Park something that most everyone else saw as instruments of death. Gray wolves – killing machines in the very real sense of the term – had for 70 years been absent from Yellowstone, wiped out through overhunting and illegal poaching. And the wildlife managers wanted to bring them back.

Even though their intentional return would bring certain death as the wolves feasted to their heart’s content on native elk, wildlife managers knew something of what we Christians have known since the first Easter: Death leads to life.

And in the case of the gray wolves in Yellowstone, the death they certainly did bring led to the very re-creation of God’s good earth. There would be collateral beauty in the certain death that the gray wolf would inflict.

Goodness coming from tragedy, life arising from death, collateral beauty transforming the world’s ugliness – none of it is easy to see.

And creating the right conditions for collateral beauty to appear often involves taking some spiritual risk.

The willingness to take spiritual risk is what Christ begins through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God in Jesus Christ burns off and blows out the dense fog that clouds the grace-filled wonder of collateral beauty that’s all around.

A dramatic transfer of power to the Spirit of God in Christ has taken place, and that power shift holds the source for a new life lit up by the Lord’s collateral beauty. The Spirit invades our hearts and mind to disrupt and dislodge our ways of sensing God present with us andat work in our world.

The apostle Paul lays it all out in terms of “adoption.”

In our adoption as children of God, assured in our baptism, we no longer live in the flesh – we no longer live by ways and means of the world or see things the way that the world sees them. We instead live, move, breathe and have our very being in the Spirit.

I’m reading to you from Romans 8.

You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die.

But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. In fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. For Creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the One who subjected it – in hope that Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:9-17)

May it be so.

May this be the Memorial Day when the Spirit lifts the veil of flags and bunting, anthems and pledges, to reveal some collateral beauty.

As that tear forms in the corner of your eye when you bend down to place those spring flowers on the grave of someone you loved – those family members and friends who died in war or simply in the trenches of everyday life, may the Holy Spirit reveal the collateral beauty this reality:

The grave you stand over is only temporary.

By the Spirit, may you see God’s promise of resurrection and hear the Lord’s promise to return – the day when the grave over which you now grieve and all the graves around it will open, and dead bodies will rise – freed from bondage to decay and reunited with souls and spirits that have rested gently in the arms of the Lord just waiting for the day of resurrection to dawn.

In life and in death we belong to God – one with Jesus in his death, one with Christ in his resurrection, all thanks to the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.

Please remember that assurance, on this long weekend of remembering.

Amen, and amen!   

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