Jesus said, “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
Eleanor Ward died with the faith that she would inherit eternal life as promised by our Lord. Our Lord does not break his promises. It is the will of the Father that all who accept and receive this gift of grace will not be turned away. This reality is beyond our comprehension, but Eleanor now understands this great mystery as she resides now in eternal life.
Eleanor’s life was an ever-recurring series of uncertainties. Even in death that came around midnight, we cannot be quite sure if she slipped into the embracing arms of Christ on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. These are two days in particular that cause us Christians to pause. Where was Jesus from Good Friday through Holy Saturday?
Our Gospel accounts assure us that Jesus died an earthly physical death on Good Friday and was buried, that he descended to Hell where he overcame death for all and for all eternity; AND He rose again on the third day. In rising from the grave, Jesus vanquished death forever, meaning we are not to fear our earthly death. Jesus has risen victorious over death.
And, we are redeemed – justified by God’s grace alone through our faith in Jesus Christ. We did not and cannot earn that grace; we cannot rid ourselves of that grace, even if we turn and walk away, the gift of God’s redeeming grace remains.
Eleanor understood this holy mystery through faith. Faith is not based on certainty. Eleanor’s life was a life of overcoming uncertainty through faith. Orphaned at an early age by the tragic death of her parents, she was embraced by loving extended family who guided her through childhood into adulthood. Encountering a young sailor at the US Navy submarine base in the Holy Loch near her home in Dunoon, Scotland, her life would take a vastly different direction than she might have expected. Committing her life to that sailor led her to leave her family and home country and journey thousands of miles across a vast ocean into a quite uncertain future following the Navy wherever it led, embracing a new family, becoming a mother and teacher and best of all a grandmother, but never loosing that beautiful brogue of her Scottish upbringing, which was her anchor.
Day after day, for her life long Eleanor was faced with uncertainties – the greatest and most fearful being the diagnosis of cancer and the reality of quickly failing health. But, Eleanor kept being faithful; she just kept being faithful – reaching into her faith for assurance that God was holding her and that, even in earthly death, all would be well.
Our former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has been quoted as saying that the opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty. The opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty.
If I tell you you are seated in a wooden pew, you do not need to depend on your faith to believe that you are seated on a wooden pew; you are certain that you are seated on a pew made of wood. Thus, it is not required that you have faith that the pew is wooden. You don’t need to take out your saw and cut into it to investigate.
On the other hand, our faith in everlasting life is fraught with uncertainties beyond our human limitations of spiritual understanding. Our human doubtfulness leads us to continue searching for truth. We are faithful, as Eleanor was faithful, that our Lord has kept his promise – the promise that none whom the father had given him would be lost. The Lord asks only that we continue being faithful – just keep being faithful – just keep walking toward the light of truth.
In the book from the Apocrypha known as the Wisdom of Solomon we read that we are foolish to believe that death brings disaster and destruction; in death we are at peace, “Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love.
Eleanor was bound in love by family and friends. She accepted and received and embraced the love of Jesus Christ that was evermore present with her in her last days – present in the healing grace of the loving embrace of all who cared for her.
Eleanor abides with our Lord in that everlasting love; and he will raise her up on the last day as our Lord promises the Father. None is lost. Through faith, we can be certain.