My grandmother, at the time over 90, worried to my father that she was pregnant. Her worries did not come from some kind of Sarah-for-our-time miracle but instead from the gradual loss of her mind. My grandfather, who landed in this world right around 1900 and moved to this good country as a teen and who was seriously wounded with a Jacob-like wound, regularly said “echel macpheckel” to me — it was something he had learned in Scotland and wanted me to know. To this day I don’t know what it means, but I sometimes find myself saying it the way the ancient Hebrews said “selah”.
You will observe that I spoke of my grandparents in the past tense. Which denies my own eschatology. Does your eschatology ever shape how you speak of the dead in Christ?
In James Vanoosting’s And the Flesh Became Word, there is an essay on the communion of saints in which he encourages a few practices that emerge from our eschatology — our faith that death ushers the saint into the presence of Christ and that, truly as you and I are alive, they are alive in the present.
First, refer to all saints in the present tense. “Martin Luther teaches…” and Dorothy Sayers “writes for us.”
Second, he suggests inviting a saint into your reading and talking to them about what you are reading. If they are alive, they are in some sense also present.
Third, connect the dead saints to the living Christ so that we speak of them in the present tense.
I imagine my grandma laughing now about her Sarah-symptoms and my grandpa whispering in my ear, as he limps by, “echel macpheckel.”
“And, because of his Resurrection,” Vanoosting writes, “all the faithfully departed are. English grammar be damned!” His “damned,” I suggest, is a modern presentation of Paul’s “Death, where is your sting?”