I promised some I would download this sermon on my blog. So here it is. I recount the story of the lynching of Ell Persons on May 22, 1917 in Memphis TN. Listen, as I recount those events and speak to the hope that is in us.
Last Sunday afternoon, I preached at the Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi. It was almost seventeen years since last I stood in that ancient place, built by slaves of bricks made from the very ground on which it sits. Fr. Ben Robertson, present Rector of the parish, was very kind to invite me “home” again.
Indeed it was home to me from All Saints Day, 1989 until midnight of New Years Eve 2001. It was a rich time. I learned many things as the congregation grew from 125 or so to the mid-800s in a decade. Of course in that time, I received more credit and blame than I deserved (is it not always so?). When people remarked on the growth, I learned to reply, “I can’t make people come here, but I can keep them from staying,” (that too is always true).
So many people I loved in Mannsdale have departed to greater life. As I reverenced the altar the other night, trough the clear glass of the altar windows the tombs of the dead were framed by magnolia leaves. Some, I had said the words over their mortal remains, Chapel members having dug the grave as they continue to dig them even today. Sitting through the night with the dead is a rare privilege we can give each other. Keeping the establishment open all night does not appear on the business plans of the funeral industry.
I struggled to find the right words. Finally, I settled on a series of meditations from Easter Week 2016, ending with the last three paragraphs from my sermon on Easter Day 2015. Please find it embedded below.
I suffered burnout in 2000 and 2001, culminated by an eleven week stay at Menninger Hospital in Topeka, Kansas. I recovered but realized late in 2001 that I could no longer sustain the kind of workload that required at least twelve her days on numerous days per week. So, I stepped down. Later in Memphis, I found that I had Type 2 Bi-polar disease and through the support of Marilyn, Doctors and my staff at Saint John’s, I have come to a good place with that disease. It is, by the way, the most under diagnosed disease of American adults.
“You can’t go home again,” as Thomas Wolf declares. You can, however, “go through home again,” as I have learned about the various “homes” of my life. It was healing to go through The Holy Ground of the Chapel of the Cross last Sunday. God bless you all who welcomed me home and saw me off back home to Memphis. I love you all.
I live in hope, in spite of the facts.
John W. Sewell+
SUFFERING IS THE PROMISE LIFE ALWAYS KEEPS!
Nowhere in the New Testament is there a description of the resurrection itself. That mighty act of God was unseen and it is indescribable. When the women reach the tomb, the resurrection has already taken place. What they find is the sepulchre empty and the stone rolled away. Their first reaction is not joy but perplexity. They have come to pay their last respected and they do not know what to make of this. They fear that the body of Jesus has been stolen in an act of desecration. No one was expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Many Jews believed in a general resurrection at the end of history but no one expected a particular resurrection within history. In our own day such a notion seems strange, a sort of wishful thinking, as if we are whistling in the dark to assuage our fears in the face of the universal evidence of fallibility and death. And yet at the same time we seem convinced that if we could just get enough power, know enough and expand beyond our limitations that we can fix it ourselves.
Jake is struggling through Grand Central Station in New York City with two huge and obviously heavy suitcases when a stranger walks up to him and asks “Have you got the time?”
Jake puts down the suitcases and glances at his wrist. “It’s a quarter to six,” he says.
“Hey, that’s a pretty fancy watch!” exclaims the stranger.
“Yeah, it’s not bad. Check this out” – and he shows the man a time zone display not just for every time zone in the world, but for the 86 largest cities. Jake hits a few buttons and from somewhere on the watch a voice says “The time is eleven ’til six'” in a very Texas accent. A few more buttons and the same voice says something in Japanese. Jake continues “I’ve put in regional accents for each city”. The display is unbelievably high quality and the voice is simply astounding.
The stranger is struck dumb with admiration.
“That’s not all”, says Jake. He pushes a few more buttons and a tiny but very high-resolution map of New York City appears on the display. “The flashing dot shows our location by satellite positioning,” explains Jake.
“I want to buy this watch!” says the stranger.
“Oh, no, it’s not ready for sale yet; I’m still working out the bugs”, says the inventor.
“But look at this”, and he proceeds to demonstrate that the watch is also a very creditable little FM radio receiver with a digital tuner, a sonar device that can measure distances up to 125 meters, a pager with thermal paper printout and, most impressive of all, the capacity for voice recordings of up to 300 standard-size books, “though I only have 32 of my favorites in there so far” says Jake.
“I’ve got to have this watch!”, says the stranger.
“No, you don’t understand; it’s not ready -“
“I’ll give you $1000 for it!”
“Oh, no, I’ve already spent more than -“
“I’ll give you $5000 for it!”
“But it’s just not -“
“I’ll give you $15,000 for it!” And the stranger pulls out a checkbook.
Jake stops to think. He’s only put about $8500 into materials and development, and with $15,000 he can make another one and have it ready for merchandising in only six months.
The stranger frantically finishes writing the check and waves it in front of him.
“Here it is, ready to hand to you right here and now. $15,000. Take it or leave it.”
Jake abruptly makes his decision. “OK”, he says, and peels off the watch.
The stranger takes the watch and walks away.
“Hey, wait a minute”, calls Jake after the stranger. He points to the two huge, heavy suitcases, “Don’t forget your batteries.”
For every advance there are unforeseen consequences. In all truth humanity is unlikely to be powerful enough, know enough or become immortal on our own terms.
It is done another way in the Divine economy. John records Jesus saying, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” These words of Jesus define the paschal mystery – the mystery of faith; namely, in order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of our present life.
There are two kinds of death and two kinds of life.
Two kinds of death
There is terminal death and there is paschal death. Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death, like terminal death, is real. However, paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life. The image of the grain falling into the ground and dying so as to produce new life is an image of paschal death.
There are also two kinds of life:
There is resuscitated life and there is resurrected life. Resuscitated life is when one is restored to one’s former life and health, as is the case with someone who has been clinically dead and is brought back to life. Resurrected life is not this. It is not a restoration of one’s old life but the reception of a radically new life.
Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life and one within which he would not have to die again. The mystery of faith, the paschal mystery, is about paschal death and resurrected life. The resurrection is the triumph of life over death. God is the God, not of the dead, but of the living. Therefore his Christ must be found, not among the dead, but among the living. The last word lies always with God and life. John Polkinghorne, in Searching For Truth, Meditations on Science and Faith, writes that the resurrection of Jesus is a triple vindication.
- Vindication of Jesus himself – A priest friend of mine was once confronted by woman, upset by all the controversy in the Church. She said to my friend, “If Jesus knew how his Church had turned out he would turn over in his grave!” All too often we live as if that were true. Good Friday marks a failure. The death on the Cross of a well-intentioned but ineffectual man. “He saved others let him self himself,” they had said. But he did not save himself. He experienced the consequences terminal death. He was really dead. But now it is revealed that the reports of his death, though true, were not the end of the story. He is vindicated. He death is a paschal death. His message of love and life through surrender is vindicated.
- Vindication of God – Someone once caught W. C. Fields, the great comic actor, reading the Bible. Mr. Fields was not a believer so the man was puzzled at the sight. “What are you doing the man asked?” W. C. Fields replied, “Looking for loopholes.” The good news, Mr. Fields is that you don’t need loopholes. God has acted. Despite the appearances on Good Friday, God did not abandon the one man who wholly trusted himself to him, and stood by him in death and beyond death. God proved himself indeed to be the God of the living. God is vindicated by the resurrection
- Vindication of human hopes. It is almost to much to hope for. It is like awakening from a nightmare and with a start realizing that we are safe after all when we thought all was lost. The old barriers, the hard crust of alienation that grew around the human heart is pierced by the power of new life. God loves us. As Polkinghorne says, “The intuition deep in our hearts that life has a meaning and fulfillment which death will not be allowed to frustrate, the truth of the assurance that came to Julian of Norwich that in the end all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Death is real and a real ending, but it is not the ultimate end, for only God is ultimate. The last word on human destiny does not lie with the fact of death but with the greater fact of a faithful Creator and a merciful Redeemer. If we matter to God now, as we certainly do, then we shall matter to God forever. At death, we shall not be cast aside like broken pots on some cosmic rubbish heap. Human beings are not naturally immortal, but the faithful God will give us a destiny beyond our deaths. As Christians we know that this is not a mere theoretical possibility, for we have the resurrection of Our Lord as the foretaste and guarantee, enacted within history, of the destiny that awaits us all beyond history.”
Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia.
It was a brutally cold December weekend, unusually so, for Memphis Tennessee. At St. John’s we canceled the 8:00 AM’s holy Eucharist that morning so that our staff would not have to be out quite so early. So about 9 o’clock or so the choirs were upstairs preparing for the service. Eucharistic ministers and acolytes checking the readings into whether or not there that they had found the right pages. Altar Guild was going to and fro adding a bit of water to the flowers, while the first arriving ushers stacked service bulletins by every entrance.
Coming from my office to the church, the elevator doors opened revealing a man sitting on a bench by the Bride’s Room. He clutched a steaming cup of coffee in both hands. Not knowing him, I introduced myself. He said his name was Kirby (not his name). Later I heard the back story.
Kirby had literally found no room in the inn in downtown Memphis. Turned away from the last available shelter he began to walk east. He walked all night, realizing that to sit down to rest was to tempt death. So he kept walking. About 9 o’clock on that Sunday morning he was walking up Central Avenue and apparently the first place he had found people stirring was St. John’s. Trying the door he found it unlocked. Hearing sounds upstairs, he followed the sounds and discovered the choir rehearsing. The organist choirmaster, Dr. Ward, realizing that he was dangerously chilled, got him some coffee and settled him on the bench by the elevator. It was there that Deacon Emma spied Kirby and invited him to church. Kirby settled in a pew, say 10 rows back. A parish family was seated in the pew behind him. At the conclusion of the Eucharist, the husband asked Kirby, “Man, do you have a coat?” The answer, no. That man took off his own elegantly, fine overcoat and put it on Kirby and they parted ways. That man was Joe Orgill, laid to rest with his ancestors today in Bolivar TN.
Having recently retired as Rector of Saint John’s, I did not have the privilege of preaching today at his funeral. I regret that I could not tell the story of that day when the Kingdom of God came near us on a frigid Sunday morning. We live in an age of malignant narcissism fueled by greed, self-entitlement and hubris. I will testify that such was not the case with my friend Joe Orgill, III. He would not approve my telling this story, I ask his forgiveness.
In the March issue of Harper’s, Rebecca Solnit explored the relationship between empathy and power. She turned to psychologist Dacher Keltner’s study of the rare proximity of empathy and power.
While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of other, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of power or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities began to fade. The powerful are more likely that other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior.
Joe was acquainted with power, wielding some, more than some. Yet the atrophy of morals and soul, pixelated by power, was not his lot. I can testify that I was in a place just yesterday where the staff knew Joe well. Their unanimous chorus was sorrow at the passing of such a good man. The waiters, ushers, servers of this world always know the truth about such things.
Godspeed brother. I rejoice to know you. I count it my honor to be your priest. You brother, practiced Christianity, day in and out, year by year. I testify that on a very cold day, when you gave Kirby your coat, you did what Jesus would have done had he been in church that morning. But, then Jesus didn’t need to be incarnated that morning because Joe Orgill, III was here and the Kingdom of God was manifested among us.
Rest brother, we’ll meet again.
John W. Sewell
I have a shelf in my library where reside the volumes that speak most deeply to my soul with the sustained whispering that great writing gives . One volume is The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte. I have returned yet again to this wisdom from the Yorkshire poet.
Chapter two is a treatment, an exegesis almost, of Beowulf.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that if you do not come to know the deeper mythic resonances that make up your life, the mythic resonances will simply rise up and take you over. If you do not live out your place in the mythic pattern consciously, the myth will simply live you, against your will. Beowulf is welcomed by Hrothgar, and that night lies in wait for Grendel with his men inside Herot, Hrothgar’s great hall. Sure enough, in the ensuing fight, Beowulf mortally wounds Grendel, who then staggers back to die in the mere. That night there is tremendous feasting and gift-giving. The problem, it seems, has been solved in one swift movement. But that night, as Beowulf sleeps with his men in a different hall, something else comes from the swamp to Herot, fights off the best warriors, and retreats with its human victim: Grendel’s mother.
The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.
Here it is. I am afraid that I will not be enough. What man is not? What is the mother of my fear of inadequacy? Why, not to be enough and in the end to not be AT ALL! Yup, you got it! Not wonder we are willing to loiter along the the lakefront, the edge of the mere! We would do almost anything to avoid plunging headfirst into the dark waters of the unconscious where the shadow knows and as Whyte writes, “men pray for dry feet.”
Yet, we are unsatisfied circling the lake. We look deep into the water, seeing our reflection in the surface, telling ourselves that, Yes, we will sign up to be the latest narcissist falling in love with our own reflection on the surface of the liquid before us. Anything to avoid falling headlong into our destiny, the soul-work that awaits us all.
My wife gave me her first gift before our hearts ever spoke of marriage. It is a framed prayer that has sat on a table in my library for about thirty years. It says, “Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.” And so I am.
JWS – March 5, 2018 10:20 PM
Just what state of being are we baptizing Lucy Barboro Champbliss? Just why are we doing this? Let me begin with our natural state.
In 1996, Lyall Watson published a fascinating book entitled Dark Nature, A Natural History of Evil, [p. 54ff.]
“THERE ARE SEVERAL GENETIC INSTRUCTIONS WHICH SEEM TO BE COMMON TO ALL LIFE:
• BE NASTY TO OUTSIDERS: We are afraid of strangers. We are afraid even when the newcomer has done us no harm. “Who is your family?” “Who were you before you married?” “You don’t talk like you all are from around these parts!”
• BE NICE TO INSIDERS: We are nice to those who are part of us, even when they are really trouble and difficult. Why? “Because blood is thicker than water.” “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It is really hard to get into most human institutions if those already on the inside do not invite us in.
• CHEAT WHENEVER POSSIBLE: This is the basis of everything from card games to tax evasion. (April 15 is our national day of wailing and gnashing of teeth.) It comes naturally. We hear all sorts of reasons for cheating: “Everybody is doing it.” “I didn’t think that it really mattered?” “Do it if you can get away with it.” “It’s a matter of national security.”
As Vladimir Lenin once said, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable.”
The great Anglican liturgist, Dom Gregory Dix once wrote, “It is the heart and core of ‘the Gospel’ that something drastic has to be done about brokenness and sin, and that what I cannot do God has done.”
In today’s first reading from Acts we find ACTS 2:42 Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Life among the Believers 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Let me point out that if this is normative for the Community of Faith, there are NO CLERGY. Yes, Apostles but then everyone is supposed to be “fully loaded and ready to move out,” which is the meaning of the Word Apostle. In a sense everyone who witnessed the ministry, passion and resurrection of Jesus was an Apostle with the Twelve having a special role in terms of message.
We have idealized this period ever since: Our baptismal creeds picks this up. What a wonderful place, wouldn’t you love to have been there? How long do you suppose it was before someone ripped the bloom off the bush? It was just about nine months, just long enough for mischief to be brought to full term. Acts 6ff [pg. 1266 in Pew bible]
In the first century women and children depended on the income of a man in order to survive. If the husband died, then the family was in desperate straits. This being the case there is a lot widow and orphan talk in scripture. The Greek part of the community felt that their widows were discriminated against. So the dissatisfaction grew and the Greek communicants began to complain loudly, “our widows are being ignored by the Church meals on wheels.” They came and told the Apostles. The Apostles said we can’t do it all and we must be about prayer and serving the word not waiting tables or literally “Keeping Accounts”. Choose seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. We’ll appoint them.” And they did. They were called Deacons, a name that comes from the word: doulos or servant. They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, etc. Prayed, laid hands on them . . . and put them to work. Notice that the names of those chosen to be deacon were Greek names. Apparently that management technique is ancient. Put those who complain in charge of the problem. “You are empowered now go do it.” These are the first clergy. Bishops in the earliest days were selected from the College of Deacons.
Over the first five hundred years the Church in the Roman Empire developed the model that is still dominant in the West. From the 6th Century on the Western Culture was Christian. That model continues to this day: Building – People – clergy. Clergy were put in place to act as “professional Christians” so nobody else need bother.
- Lay People get serious about their faith and folk assumed what? Off to Seminary with you. Why, only professional Christians bother with all that.
- “O John, we hired you to do that.”
This is not working and it is not true. I am here to be your Coach not your surrogate nor your truant officer. I am a player coach. I’m playing because I’m baptized. I’m ordained to Coach. This is my part of the re-inventing process we call SOULWorks.
At Saint John’s we have actively and consciously for the past five years been growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down. We took surveys that told us where we are on the journey to union with Christ. We’ve developed initiatives: Bible Challenge (Bibles in Pews), Ancient Practices, SOULWorks Weekends #7 in September.
We are in transition. Going forward there will be many, many, more lay-people in active ministry than clergy. All Christians are in ministry. You will be in places I’ll not be. You have influence that I lack.
What we are called to and what we are baptizing Lucy into is un-natural in this fallen world. We are called to live above our unconscious animal nature What the Church was dealing with then and has struggled with ever since is the simple fact that being Christian runs against what comes naturally for humanity. Rising above the animal toward the Angels of our better nature is an un-natural act!
France’s Cardinal Suhard, “To be a witness is being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
PALM SUNDAY MARTYRDOM IN ALEXANDRIA AT SAINT MARK’S CATHEDERAL
Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response. “The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered. Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city. On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church. “I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’ “‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’” Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.
This is the un-natural life of one who is in Christ. This un-natural life of grace is ours in Christ Jesus. I am committed during these last years as your Rector to accept what is mine in Baptism so that you will do the same. What might happen in Memphis if we each become the living mystery that makes no sense without the resurrection? I’m not sure, but I’d sure like to see it, just once. Amen
March 8, 2017
Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis Tennessee 38111
Today we come doing the three things Christians always do when they gather: To tell the story; to calm our fears and to speak to the hope that is in us.
I baptized Lucy last November in the company of several babies and little children. There is no rubric/stage direction that children having been baptized are to be returned to their parents. I’ve resisted the temptation to take them all home. I baptized Lucy into the household faith. I didn’t know baptize her with her family name because beginning then her last name from them, unspoken though implied was Christian. And so it remains.
You had so many plans for her! Of course you did, how could you not? Our pain today is that those plans are now mementos. There are so many things that will not happen.
She will never know how really cruel humans can be. She will never know the pain of sustained hunger, nor will she ever experience poverty of body, mind or spirit. She will never grow old and infirm. She lived among for just shy one cycle of the sun round this globe and has reached union with Christ before the age of one. Lucy was vivacious, already the apple of many an eye. Lucy was graced with beauty, a keen mind, a happy spirit. She was endowed with most every gift, save one: TIME.
Let me be as clear as I can beloved. This was not God’s will, not his intention. God created all things with degrees of freedom. Things fall down but not up. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have on Facebook (5000 is the max. I believe), whether you tweet, twit or twitter with millions hanging on every word and your opinions go viral on YouTube; Even endowed with all gifts so than you can move mountains, should you stumble off the roof a feather bed will not appear between you and the ground just because people like you (or not). Something did not function properly within its degrees of freedom last Saturday morning. We are left powerless in its wake. Likely nothing would have changed the trajectory, although, you will question yourself for evermore.
Here we are at a place of choosing. We can choose helplessness or guilt. Please hear me here? The truth is that most of us would rather feel guilty than helpless. Last Saturday morning, you and soon the rest of us met the limits of human power. Immediately, we turned toward guilt, “If I had done this or that? I arrived at a home once on a similar mission, only to have a person confess to me, “You know John, we didn’t get to Easter Sunday this year.” I assured them that God was not taking attendance. Because, were that true the Churches would be filled every Sunday, including Easter Day. This did not happen because Judson has red hair. I promise. I had red hair myself once. It’s not true. If we turn in the driveway of guilt we will torment ourselves and those around us from now on.
No, today let us embrace the truth, we were powerless to keep this from happening. We have no defense in our helplessness. Just sit with that. Grieve that. In addition, this was not God’s will.
God didn’t plan it and is just as sad about it as we are because the Holy One’s heart breaks when ours break. What I can tell you is that Lucy is with Him and in eternity outside time and space she is all that God had in mind when he created her.
Let us go back though and see just what it was we did last November? Let us examine the implications of baptism for Lucy last Saturday and for us today.
For Christians there are two kinds of death: terminal death and Paschal (Easter death). In his Second Letter to the Christians in Corinth, Saint Paul reminds them and us to NOT LOSE HEART.
2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:10 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling – if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil
The only thing that we can know for certain all people who have ever lived have in common is terminal, “dead as a doornail death.” At birth our outer nature begins Baptism does not inoculate us against mortality. Rather, it was into Paschal (Good Friday – Easter Resurrection), I baptized Lucy months ago. Lucy was baptized into the death of our Lord Jesus, not his terminal death, but his dying and rising death.
Jesus’ empty tomb was exactly what no one expected to find the midst of history. But, the deepest intuition of humanity since that day is that if it can happen once in history it can happen again. It is into this death that she was baptized, not only was she baptized into the Good Friday death of Jesus, but she was also baptized into his Easter Resurrection.
We made promises to support her in her life in Christ. Parents and god-parents promised to bring her up in the Christian faith and life. Many of you here today joined in that promise. Clearly, there was not much time for any of that. But hear me; baptism always says more about God than us. Lucy was endowed by God in baptism with all the grace there is in potential. Today outside time and space: all that grace is realized. Lucy, is exactly, fully, completely everything God had in mind when God the Holy Trinity thought her up not so long ago.
You must grieve Lucy. You must grieve but not with despair. Here the Words of our Lord, recorded by Saint John, the Patron of this House of Faith,
JOHN 14:1-6 Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me
Grieve, but not as people who have no hope. Hear me? Good. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
All Saints – All Souls & The Communion of the Saints
November 6, 2016
All Saints on November 1 is the day of remembrance of all the saints, those whose lives display pronounced activity of the Holy Spirit, but who did not have a particular day set aside for them, there being only so many days after all. The next day is All Souls Day. What is the difference? On All Souls, we honor all the faithful dead of the Christian faith.
On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, at ten minutes after noon a congregation gathered at the Saint John’s Cemetery to celebrate Eucharist. As traffic raced by on Central Avenue and planes roared overhead in the clear fall air folk joined saying their prayers and remembering the faithful departed.
The ancient Romans buried their dead outside their cities in necropolis (Greek) for cities of the dead. It was in such a place that Saint Peter was buried by the side of the road across the street from the Circus of Nero. This site lies beneath the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City. We do not call our place of the dead a necropolis rather we use the word cemetery a word also coming from the Greek that means a place of sleep. The early Christians were making a theological distinction between those believed to be dead as a “doornail” and those who fell asleep in Christ in the hope of the resurrection and those who have no such belief.
Also, the Romans had a custom called a refrigerium, a memorial meal eaten at the graveside of the person that was replaced by the Eucharist over time in Christian practice. We gathered at Saint John’s Cemetery as heirs of hundreds of generations of Christians who had gone before us, who in their generation prayed for the dead who die in the Lord and who have in their time joined those who sleep awaiting the Lord’s return.
I return again and gain to the eloquent words of John Polkinghorne in his book, Faith of a Physicist, “The resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of the hopes of humanity. We shall all die with our lives to a greater or lesser extent incomplete, unfulfilled, unhealed. Yet there is a profound and widespread human intuition that in the end, all will be will. … The resurrection of Jesus is the sign that such human hope is not delusory. …This is so because it is part of Christian understanding that what happened to Jesus within history is a foretaste and guarantee of what will await all of us beyond history, ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be make alive,’ (I Cor. 15.22).
The proper preface for the dead at the Eucharist sums up the hope of all who believe, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord; who rose victorious from the dead and comforts us with the blessed hope of everlasting life. For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”
John W. Sewell+
St John says, ‘I saw the Word in God.’ God is abstract being, pure perception, which is perceiving itself in itself. St John means that the Son is in the Father, in his nature. ‘I saw the Word with God.’ Here he is referring to the intellect which, flowing into God eternally, proceeded forth from God in distinction of Person, namely, the Son. ‘ I saw the Word before God.’ This means that the Son is ever being born of the Father and that he is the image of the Father. ‘In the Word there is only the Word,’ refers to the eternal emanation of creatures in the Word. ‘I saw the Word under God’; the Son becomes man, as God said, ‘I have loved you in the reflection of my darkness.’ God’s darkness is his nature which is unknowable. Good people know it not and no creature can divine it; therefore it is a darkness. While God was flowing in his own darkness the Son was not distinct from him. In the darkness of his nature the Father flowed as Person so far as he was pregnant. The Father gave his Son birth and gave him his own nature; he gave him not his Person: his nature he can give away but he can give to none his Person for that is the product of his unborn essence. The Father spoke himself and all creatures in his Son; the Father spoke himself to all creature in his Son. The Father turning back into himself speaks himself in himself; he flows back into himself with all creatures. As Dionysius says, ‘God proceeded himself,’ meaning that his hidden nature suffices him, which is concealed from creatures. The soul cannot follow him into his nature, except he absorb her altogether, and then in him she is made dark of all created lights. The darkness of creatures is their incomprehensibility in their simple nature, that is, in the nothing from which they were created. In this uncreated light they discern his uncreatedness. Into his uncreatedness they flow in the reflection of his darkness.
–‘Tell me, good Sir, do Father, Son and Holy Ghost speak the same word in the Godhead or has each a different word? ‘ — In the Godhead there is but one word; in it the Father in the Godhead speaks into his unborn essence and into his born essence, the Father flowing into his Son with all that he is and the Son speaks the same word, and the Father and the Son flow into the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost speaks the same word. They speak this one simple word in their essence and each speaks the same word in his own Person, and in their common nature they discourse the truth and the Persons receive the essence as it is essentially. Yet the Persons receive from one another. They bow down to the essence in praise, lauding the essence; and the unborn essence pronounces its unborn word in the Persons, lauding the Persons, and the Persons receive the essence every whit and pass it on to one another. This unborn essence is self-sufficient, without birth and without activity. Birth and activity are in the Persons. The Persons say they are the truth and that creatures have none of the truth. When the soul attains to this divine speech she speaks this very truth and is the Deity to every creature as well as to herself. This comes of his indivisible nature and therein creatures are a matter of the will. The bad are bad and the good good, the Persons preserving justice in the Godhead. They give the bad their due and the good theirs.
St Dionysius says, ‘God is the Prime Cause, and God has fashioned all things for himself who is the cause of all; and his works are all wrought in the likeness of the First Cause.’ Father and Son show forth the first cause, and the Son is playing in the Father with all things for he proceeded forth from him. The Son plays before the Father with all things, the Son plays below the Father with all things. The Father begat his Son with his Godhead and with all things. The Father begat his Son in his Godhead with all things. The Godhead is the several Persons and the fullness of the Persons. The Godhead is not given to any thing. On coming to its knowledge the soul sees God and glancing back into herself she sees that the Godhead is in all things. Receiving into her the likeness of the creator she creates what she will but cannot give it essence: she gives it form and is herself its matter and its eternal activities are in her; these are in the eternal birth. Its temporal activities are in time, where God gives his works essence, form and matter out of nothing, which the soul is unable to do; God reduces his works to the unity of Christ and this order shall not pass away but shall be raised up to the glory of the one. Soul, transcending order, enters the naked Godhead where she is seen when God is seen in the soul as God. This soul has God as God in her, she has gotten in her the image of her creator.
Now mark the difference between the work of God and creature. God has done all things for himself, for he is the universal cause and all his works are wrought in the likeness of the first cause and creatures all work according to the likeness of the first cause. That is the intention they have towards God. God made all things from nothing, infusing into them his Godhead so that all things are full of God. were they not full of the Godhead they would all perish. The Trinity does all the work in things and creatures exploit the power of the Trinity, creatures working as creatures and God as God, while man mars the work so far as his intention is evil. When a man is at work his body and soul are united, for body cannot act without the soul. When the soul is united with God she does divine work, for God cannot work without the soul and the soul cannot work without God. God is the soul’s life just as the soul is the body’s, and the Godhead is the soul of the three Persons in that it unifies them and in that it has dwelt in them for ever. And since the Godhead is in all things it is all soul’s soul. But in spite of its being all soul’s soul, the Godhead it not creatures’ soul in the way it is the Trinity’s. God does one work with the soul; in this work the soul is raised above herself. The work is creature, grace to wit, which bears the soul to God. It is nobler than the soul as admitting her to God; but the soul is the nobler in her admissibility. This creature which has neither form nor matter nor any being of its own, translates the soul of her natural state into the supernatural.
To his eternally elect God gives his spirit as it is, without means; they cannot miss it. Creatures God is going to make at his good pleasure he has known eternally as creatures, for in God they are creatures albeit nothing in themselves: they are uncreated creatures. Creatures are always more noble in God than they are in themselves. In God the soul shall see her own perfection without image and shall see the difference between things uncreated and created and she shall distinguish God from Godhead, nature from Person, form from matter. The Father is the beginning of the Godhead, he is the well-spring of the Godhead, overflowing into all things in eternity and time. The Godhead is a heaven of three Persons. The Father is God and a Person not born nor proceeding any; and the Son is God and a Person and born of the Father; and the Holy Ghost is God and a Person proceeding from both. St Paul speaks of the uncreated spirit flowing into the created spirit (or mind). This meeting which befalls the created spirit is her saving revelation; it happens in the soul who breaks through the boundaries of God to lose herself in his uncreated naught. The three Persons are one God, one in nature, and our nature is shadowing God’s nature in perpetual motion; having followed him from naught to aught and into that which God is to himself, there she has no motion of her naught. Aught is suspended from the divine essence; its progression is matter, wherein the soul puts on new forms and puts off her old ones. The change from one into the other is her death: the one she doffs she dies to, and the one she dons she lives in.
St John says, ‘Blessed are the dead that die in God; they are buried where Christ is buried.’ Upon which St Dionysius comments thus: Burial in God is the passage into uncreated life. The power the soul goes in is her matter, which power the soul can never approfound for it is God and God is changeless, albeit the soul changes in his power. As St Dionysius says, ‘God is the mover of the soul.’ Now form is a revelation of essence. St Dionysius says, ‘Form is matter’s aught. Matter without form is naught.’ So the soul never rests till she is gotten into God who is her first form and creatures never rest till they have gotten into human nature: therein do they attain to their original form, God namely. As St Dionysius hath it, ‘God is the beginning and the middle and the end of all things.’
Then up spake the loving soul, ‘Lord, when enjoyest thou thy creatures?’ — ‘That do I at high noon when God is reposing in all creatures and all creatures in God.’ St Augustine says, ‘All things are God,’ meaning, they have always been in God and shall return to God. So when St Dionysius says,’ All things are naught,’ he means they are not of themselves and that in their egress and their ingress they are as incomprehensible as naught. When St Augustine says, ‘God is all things,’ he means he has the power of all things, one more noble than he ever gave to creatures. And St Dionysius’ dictum, ‘God is naught,’ implies that God is as inconceivable as naught. As King David sings, ‘God has assigned to everything its place: to fish the water, birds the air and beasts the field and to the soul the Godhead.’ The soul must die in every form save God: there at her jouney’s end her matter rests and God absorbs the whole of the powers of the soul, so now behold the soul a naked spirit. Then, as St Dionysius says, the soul is not called soul, she is the sovran power of God wherewith God’s will is done. It is at this point St Augustine cries, ‘Lord thou hast bereft me of my spirit!’ Whereupon Origen remarks, ‘Thou art mistaken, O Augustine. It is not thy spirit, it is thy soul-powers that are taken from thee.’ The soul unites with God like food with man, which turns in eye to eye, in ear to ear. So does the soul in God turn into God; and God combines with the soul and is each power in the soul; and the two natures flowing in one light, the soul comes utterly to naught. That she is she is in God. The divine powers swallor her up out of sight just as the sun draw up things out of sight.
What God is to himself no man may know. God is in all things, self-intent. God is all in all and to each thing all things at once. And the soul shall be the same. What God has by nature is the soul’s by grace. God is nothing at all to anything; God is nothing at all to himself, God is nothing that we can express. In this sense Dionysius says, ‘God is all things to himself for he bears the form of all things.’ He is big with himself in a naught; there all things are God, and are not, the same as we were. When we were not then God was heaven and hell and all things. St Dionysius says that ‘God is not’, meaning that he bears himself in a not, namely, the not-knowing of all creatures, and this not draws the soul through all things, over all things and out of all things into that superlative not where she is not-known to any creature. There she is not, has not, wills not, she has abandoned God and everything to God. Now God and heaven gone, the soul is finally cut off from every influx of divinity, so his spirit is no longer given to her. Arrived at this the soul belongs to the eternal life rather than creation; her uncreated spirit lives rather than herself; the uncreated, eternally-existent which is no less than God. Wherewith being all-pervaded to the total loss of her own self, the soul at length returns without herself to eternal indigence, for what is left alive in her is nothing less than God. Thus she is poor of self. This is the point where soul and Godhead part and the losing of the Godhead is the finding of the soul, for the spirit which is uncreated drawing on the soul to its own knowledge she comes nearer to the not-being of the Godhead than by knowing all the Father ever gave. [The gift of the Father is the positive existence of all creatures in the Person of his Son and with the Son the Holy Ghost as well. For the Persons must be looked on as inseparate, albeit distinct illuminations of the understanding.] And so far as she attains this in the body she enjoys the eternal wont and escapes her own.
We ought to be eternally as poor as when we were not and then our kingdom shall not pass away, abiding as it does in God whose it is eternally. The Godhead gave all things up to God; it is as poor, as naked and as idle as thought it were not: it has not, wills not, wants not, works not, gets not. St Dionysius says, ‘Be the soul never so bare the Godhead is barer’: a naught from which no shoot was ever lopped nor ever shall be. It is this counsel of perfection the soul is straining after more than after anything that God contains or anything she can conceive of god. Saith the bride in the book of Love, ‘The form of my beloved passed by me and IGo cannot overtake him.’ It is God who has the treasure and the bride in him, the Godhead is as void as though it were not. God has consumed the form of the soul and formed her with his form into his form. Now she gets all things free from matter, as their creator possesses them in him, and resigns the same to God.
Ours to contain all things in the same perfection wherein the eternal wisdom has eternally contained them. Ours to expire them as the Holy Ghost has expired them eternally. Ours to be all things’ spirit and all things spirit to us in the spirit. Ours to know all and deify ourselves with all.
Most of the early history of the church comes to us from the Venerable Bede who, in A.D. 731, completed his history of the English Church and People, when he was a monk at the monastery in Jarrow.
The Story of Ct. Cedd and St. Chad founding the Monastery in Lastingham.
“During his episcopate among the east Saxons, God’s Servant Cedd often Visited his own province of Northumbria to preach. Ethelwald, son of king Oswald, who ruled the province of Deira, Knowing Cedd to be a wise, holy and honourable man, asked him to accept a grant of Land to found a monastery, to which hr himself might often come to pray and hear the word of Go, and where he might be buried: for he firmly believed that the daily prayers of those who would serve God there would be great help to him. The Kings previous chaplain had been Cedd’s brother, a priest named Caelin, a man equally devoted to God, who had ministered the word and sacraments to himself and his family, and it was thought of him that the King came to know and love the bishop. In accordance with the King’s wishes, Cedd Chose a site for the monastery among some High and remote hills, which seemed more suitable for the dens of robbers and haunts of wild beasts than for human habitation. His purpose in this was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “in the haunts where dragons once dwelt shall be pasture, with reeds and rushes”, and he wished the fruits of good works to spring up where formerly lived only wild beasts, or men who lived like beasts.
The Man of God wished first of all to purify the site of the monastery from the taint of earlier crimes by prayer and fasting, and make it acceptable to God before laying the foundations. He therefore asked the King’s permission to remain there throughout the approaching season of Lent, and during this time he fasted until evening every day except Sunday according to custom. Even then he took no food but a morsel of bread, an egg and a little watered milk. he explained that it was the custom of those who had trained him in the rule of regular discipline to dedicate the site of any monastery to God with prayer and fasting. But then days before the end of Lent a messenger arrived to summon him to the King, so that the king’s business should not interrupt the work of dedication, Cedd asked his brother Cynebil to complete this holy task. The latter readily consented, and when the period of prayer and fasting came to an end , he built the monastery now called Lastingham, and established there the observances of the usage of Lindisfarne where he had been trained.
When Cedd had been bishop of the province and administered the affairs of the monastery for many years through his chosen representatives, he happened to visit the monastery at the time of plague, and there he fell sick and died. He was first buried in the open, but in the course of time a stone church was built, dedicated to the blessed mother of God, and his body was re-interred in it on the right side of the altar.
The bishop bequeathed the abbacy of the monastery to his brother Chad, who subsequently became a bishop. The four brothers I have mentioned – Cedd, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad – all became famous priests of our Lord, and two became bishops, which is a rare occurrence in one family. When the brethren of Cedd’s monastery in the province of the East Saxons heard that their founder had died in the province of Northumbria, about thirty of them came wishing, God willing, either to live near the body of their Father, or to die and be laid to rest at his side. They were welcomed by their brothers and fellow-soldiers of Christ, and all of them died there of the plague with the exception of one little boy who was preserved from death by the prayers of his father Chad.