The symbols of the sacraments no longer simply point to something: they also enable us to participate in it.
David Brown & David Fuller, Signs of Grace: Sacraments in Poetry and Prose, [1x]
The symbols of the sacraments no longer simply point to something: they also enable us to participate in it.
David Brown & David Fuller, Signs of Grace: Sacraments in Poetry and Prose, [1x]
The Kingdom of God comes, as our Lord put it, “without observation.”
Even so it was a particularly inauspicious beginning. Gabriel had come to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary. He told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s only son and that the Holy Spirit would accomplish it. She agreed, and it was so.
Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, at first thought to divorce Mary quietly. But then Gabriel let him in on the plan and so he took Mary for his wife. I’m sure there was unpleasant gossip about the pregnant bride and her husband who some in town thought a fool for marrying her at all.
It was not an auspicious beginning.
In response to the census decreed by the Emperor Augustus, Joseph traveled to the hometown of his ancestor David. Apparently Joseph didn’t want to leave Mary alone so late in her pregnancy she rode a donkey 75+ miles to Bethlehem. There was no room in the inn so they wound up in a stable. Tradition says it was a cave.
It was not an auspicious place for a birth.
And there her first born son was born – laid in a manger – with the animals all around.
It was not an auspicious nursery.
An Angel appeared to shepherds who had the night shift watching the sheep. The angel said, “To you this day in the city of David is born one Christ the Lord.” Then suddenly more angels appeared. Was it 2, 20 or 200 angels? It’s hard to discern the aggregate when you have so little practice seeing angels. “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.”
It was not an auspicious audience.
The shepherds went into Bethlehem and indeed it was so: Emmanuel – God with us.
It was not auspicious in any way we would usually recognize! But the truly important things in our own lives have always come with out auspicious beginnings. We never saw their importance at the time. It is only in getting still and looking at our life that we see the outline of meaning. Oh, we say, that’s what that meant.
How amazed would Augustus be to know that more people know him from the opening line of the Christmas Gospel than from any inscription on a building in the forum in Rome?
Quirinus is the only Roman Governor of Syria now remembered and that for an event which he never knew came to pass.
Those taking the census, those who could afford rooms in the inn that night never knew that an event born out poverty would be the very event by which we divide history before and after.
“Here in time we have a holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St Augustine says the birth is always happening. But if it happen not in me what does it profit me? What matters is that it (the birth) shall happen in me.” Meister Eckhart
The inauspicious surroundings of our lives are the very occasion new birth in us!
It is the dark recesses of the stables of our souls that new birth begins.
It comes quietly hardly noticed by the turning of new leaves and amid the litter of good intentions.
It is when we are powerless and come to know it that the birth pain begins.
When we give up and know that we cannot make it on our own – there is a sudden irresistible movement of grace and there it is – new life – laid in the manager in amongst the ruin of our well laid plans.
This is not what we expect. This is not what we desire. We want drama. We want the earth to tilt further on its axis in order that we will know that we are alive and that all is well. But that is not how it happens. Meister Eckhart: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”
Tonight heaven and earth meet in that inauspicious event born of poverty. Earth is drawn up into heaven. In the great silence — without observation – He is come!
CS Lewis once said, “What a sorry place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.”
Well, it is finally winter even in Tennessee. And it is Christmas — let us be still and silent before him that he may be reborn in us.
December 3, 2017
John W. Sewell
Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee 38111
The long season after Pentecost is ended. For the next four Sundays we reflect on the Coming of the Christ.
We do this in three ways:
1. The yearly remembrance of his First Advent.
2. His presence here in the sacraments and community
3. Looking to his Second Advent.
On this first Sunday of Advent we look to our Lord’s Second Coming. The lessons from scripture this morning are lessons of anticipation and judgment. The prophet Isaiah writes of his longing for God to visit his people with judgment. He sees the presence of God to be like the effect of heat on water or fire on brushwood. The presence of the God of Israel changes things. This is a God who works for those who wait for him. Now keep that in mind. This is a God who works for those who wait for Him. The consequences for those who have not waited for God, who have fallen into sin and are alienated from Him, are dire, “We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind will blow us away. Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Things are bad but God will come and like a potter and Father will remold and restore all things.
In his Gospel, Mark sees that the prophet’s prayer has been answered. Indeed God has come and will return a second time. The Sun will darken. All sorts of natural disasters will occur and THEN the Son of Man will come in great glory. And this coming, says our Lord through the Evangelist Mark, is a promise. The heavens and the earth will pass away but my WORD will not pass away. Here “word” is best translated, “creative energy.” This word is not static, but dynamic. Our response must also be dynamic. The dynamic response is to WATCH.
“Take heed!” he says. It will come like a man going on a journey. He leaves his home and leaves his servants in charge and commands the gatekeeper to watch. For we do not know when the master will return at midnight or evening or morning. Watch, so that he does not find you asleep. WATCH THEREFORE!
God’s will is that his creatures mature. We do that by facing challenge. So, here is a good opportunity for growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down.
Yet we are commanded to mature and thus to watch and not fall asleep. This is hard. But there is good news for us in the Epistle reading. In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul gives thanks for the grace of God, “So that you are not lacking any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of Our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end.” This is good news. We are told to watch and not fall asleep AND Jesus will enable us to do just that. “Come,” says Isaiah. “Watch,” says Mark. “And,” says Paul, “God will sustain, hold you up, be by you, as you await his coming.” So we wait. We will be judged by the quality of our waiting. Will we wait and watch passionately or will we become distracted and forget to watch at all?
In order to watch and wait appropriately, we need an adequate theology of time.
How many of you have a digital clock? In a way a digital clock is a violation of what it means to be human. Why? Because all a digital clock tells you is now! Now! Now! Now! It is a violation of humanity because it has no reference to the past or to the future.
A CIRCADIAN clock (the old-fashioned one with hands) which marks the twenty-four hour rhythms of the earth’s rotation is better theologically because it marks time in reference to the past and future. It is half-past the hour or a quarter until the hour. We need these reference points:
Past = memory = remorse & gratitude
Future = expectation = anxiety & excitement or despair
There is a tension this time of year between digital and circadian time keeping. There is much talk about the “commercializing” of Christmas. If we are seduced into the manic, Now, Now, Buy Now! No matter that the Christmas trees up are up and it’s not Halloween yet” of digital time, we will be disappointed again! A digital culture is not accustomed to waiting. Circadian thinking says, “Wait a minute, it’s not time yet.” It’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Let’s wait until it is the time to do these things. So the day after thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year. But even circadian thinking is not enough.
An adequate theology of time has an understanding of time that is not digital, now, now, now, fixed on the moment time, or Circadian, with reference to past and future, calendar time.
A deeper Christian understanding of time concerns KAIROS. Not Digital = constantly NOW, there is not past or future. Not Chronos = calendar time = what time is it?
KAIROS: divine time = what is it time for?
its Kairos, God’s time. It’s High Time. It’s mystical time. It’s the eighth Day of Creation: that first day of the week when the tomb was empty and nothing has ever been the same since.
People often say, “I don’t have the time.” The truth is that we have all the time there IS. God calls us to discern the time and ask, “what is it time for?” Advent is in the season to clarify our theology of time. A great symbol of Advent is the Advent wreath. In Northern Europe people took a wheel off their cart and put the Advent candles on it, lighting each in turn, thereby marking the days until Christmas. Taking a wheel off your cart is a proven aid to slowing down. So I invite you to take a wheel off. Light one candle, light another, think, reflect, be. Take time. Do less.
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.
6 January 2017
Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee
John W. Sewell
What would have happened if, at Epiphany, there had been wise WOMEN instead of wise men at Bethlehem? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts!
Most people know nothing of the Epiphany. As a feast of the Church, The Epiphany ranks with Christmas, All Saints, Ascension, and Pentecost. Unlike Christmas Eve, we will not need four services tonight to accommodate worshipers.
The Word Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means to manifest or to reveal. The deep mystery of the Incarnation – the coming of the Second Member of the Trinity – to live as a human being, now is revealed or displayed not just to the Jews but to Gentiles.
In Judaism, the thread of universal salvation weaves in and out among the fabric of Israel’s special call. Periodically individual gentiles found their way into the household of Israel: people such as Rahab the harlot of Jericho who hid the spies sent by Moses to scope out the Promised Land and Ruth the great-grandmother of King David was a woman of Moab.
The theme of the Book of Jonah is the concern the God of Israel has for gentile people, even including the hated Assyrians. This concern is a source of much aggravation to the prophet Jonah. Isaiah predicts that the nations will come to the light revealed in Israel. In today’s Epistle, Paul writes to the Ephesians, “that … the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
Now, Jesus, the Son of God, has been born in Bethlehem. The Magi arrive, the first non-Jews, to encounter the Christ child. The scriptures do not label these mysterious figures kings or indeed number them three. Echoing Isaiah their gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh. Or as the little boy put it, “the Wise Men arrived bringing gifts of common sense, frankness and mermaids. “
Following the star, they came via Jerusalem where the wise men met the wise guy, Herod, King of Judea. They asked to see his newborn son. Herod had no such son. Bethlehem is the place to look they were told. “Come back and tell me when you find him” said the wise guy. And when they came to Bethlehem the star stopped over the house where the holy family was living. After they worshiped they wisely went home another way avoiding the wise guy back in Jerusalem.
The Epiphany is our story, the story of all non-Jews who have no claim to be children of Abraham, all who are beyond the perimeters of ordinary grace. Evelyn Waugh in the novel, Helena, has the title character pray the following prayer to the Magi, “You are the patrons for all latecomers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents. … For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”
Blaise Pascal once wrote, “The knowledge of God is very far from the love of God.”
We realize that our most elegant descriptions of God are always just descriptions. We will never know enough to know what we want to know. The good news is that we experience God without understanding. The love of God is a very different economy from the economy of epistemology!
Jesus never said, “repeat after me.” What Jesus said was, “Follow me.” So let us follow him who was manifested to the Magi, that through his cross and resurrection, the love of God revealed through him will be manifest in us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
John 1:1 “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God.”
Christmas Day is not half over and already many people are exhibiting symptoms of the “post-nativity” depression! Needles are dropping from trees that were cut in July and put up at Thanksgiving. Scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon peep out from under furniture. Our clothing is tighter around the waistline and we are almost sick from the excess of the Christmas feast. We are like the little boy who unwrapped package after package on Christmas morning. Finally sitting up to his chin in wrapping paper and bows asked, “Is this all?”
The Third Proper (sets of readings) for Christmas are not of mangers and shepherds, but the cosmic hymn of the mysteriously glorious origin of the Son of God recorded in prologue to St. John’s Gospel. To see what John is up to here we need to go back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 1:1 is usually translated from the Hebrew into English as, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A more descriptive English translation can be found in Everett Fox’s brilliant translation of the Five Books of Moses. Here Genesis 1:1 goes like this, “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth.” Here the emphasis in on process and the sense is more verb than noun. The Hebrew word is “Dabhar,” which can be legitimately be translated, “creative energy.”
It is no accident that this is the very language that John uses in the prologue to his Gospel. “In the beginning was the WORD,” says John. Here word is not a noun so much as verb. We could accurately say, “In the beginning was the Creative Energy: the Creative Energy was with God and the Creative Energy was God. The creative energy was with God in the beginning. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. All that came to be had life in the Creative Energy and that life was the light of humanity . . .. The Creative Energy was made flesh, it pitched its tent among us, and we saw its glory, the glory as is his as the only Son of God, full of grace and full of truth.”
Here is the deepest mystery of the Christian faith! How can this be? How is it possible that God has come among us becoming authentically human? Yet this is the core belief of our faith. We have been thinking, reflecting and fighting about how this is so ever since.
H. Richard Niebuhr spoke to this mystery when he said, “Jesus Christ is not a median figure, half-God, half-man; He is a single person wholly directed as man toward God and wholly directed in his unity with the Father toward man. He mediatorial not median!”
1. Jesus is fully human, wholly directed as a human man toward God. There was no alienation, no sin, between Jesus as a man and God as creator and Father. The alienation that has existed between humanity and God since Eden is overcome in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. It is essential to realize that all that Jesus accomplished as a human on earth was not accomplished through his divinity! The acts of Jesus, his preaching, his teaching, and his healing were done through his human obedience to God NOT because he was God! Thus he demonstrates for us what we are intended to be, authentically human.
2. Jesus is wholly directed in his unity with the father toward humanity. The important thing to say here is not that Jesus is like God, but rather to say that God is like Jesus. God, of course, is totally outside the realm of our understanding. As John says, “No one has ever seen God.” God is not playing hide and sick with us, it is just not possible to experience God the creator directly. Traces of transcendence are revealed in creation, but that is not enough to intuit God adequately. So in the fullness of time God’s son appeared, so that we believe we can now know who God is. So when someone asks, “what is God like?” The answer for Christians is, “God is like Jesus.”
The incarnation is good news because by the coming of God’s son in the flesh heaven and earth are joined and the alienation between God and humanity is overcome. Our God has acted! Alienation is overcome by LOVE! The incarnation changes everything. There is nothing so broken; nothing so jaded; nothing so twisted that it cannot be made new.”
We are to go from here to be for those in world what this Word become flesh is for us. That is what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ. The creative energy of God has come and dwelt among us and behold all things shall be made new! The Ideal and the Real here unite in the Actual. Is this all there is? Yes, and it is sufficient.
Merry Christmas! 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+
August 8, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee – John Sewell
We come to do what Christians do each time they gather.
We come to tell the story.
We come to calm the fear within us.
We come to speak of the hope that is within us.
We come to Celebrate: Interpret, to make sense of. We do that in the context of the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We come to celebrate the life and home going of LEWIS MADISON (BIG DADDY) JONES, JR.
I am rarely presumptuous enough to hazard a guess at what God is thinking. I work for him but I am rarely taken into his confidence. But today, I know Phyllis that you and Lewis kept your vows to each other, as the Book of Common Prayer has it, “Until you were parted by death.” I know that pleased God. Well done.
THE READINGS FOR TODAY SPEAK TO THE STORY WE SHARE,
THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS AND THE HOPE THAT IS WITHIN US.
We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear.
If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is the consummation of Isaiah, the party planner prophet.
God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. There and then, God will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.
The Eucharist carried to the dying has a special name – Viaticum, which literally means “food for the journey” a little something to “tide you over” until you arrive at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. A few days ago, I went out to Collierville, taking Viaticum. Around Lewis’ bed we made Communion together. It was a moment of deep and precious intimacy for Lewis, his family, his dog…
It is altogether appropriate we gather this afternoon to say our prayers for Lewis and that we do so as we celebrate this Eucharist together.
Hear again the words of Paul to the Christians in Rome, “For I am persuaded (not wishful thinking but the thought of one who has lived into the comfort of God’s love) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Be not afraid, for Jesus has overcome death, hell and the grave. Which brings us to hope that in within us.
As Our Lord said to his disciples on Easter afternoon:
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself that where I am there you may be also…”
We have come as far as we can go with Lewis Madison Jones, Jr. His soul has gone to God and his body today goes to the University making a final contribution to cancer research.
Fritz Kunkel wrote once, “Losing one we love to death always means the possibility of a new contact with the beyond, and of a new turning away from the past toward the future.” This statement while true, is in danger of amounting to nothing more than fluffy nothingness straight from a writer’s desk at Hallmark cards. What turns this existential cotton candy into nourishment is suffering.
Spiritual growth comes through suffering. This is not something we have a choice about. Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Lewis had more than a passing acquaintance with suffering, especially in the last year.
Wendell Berry, writes of the essential “aloneness” of the human experience embedded in entering the big woods:
Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feeling of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown,
You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be at home.
If we live long enough our world will be reduced to the dimensions of a bed. It was there, in a hospital bed that Lewis began his greatest adventure, and his final pilgrimage was not of miles to Jerusalem but inches into eternity.
Jesus didn’t say you can’t serve God and the evil one. No, he said, you can’t serve God and money. Lewis worked for mammon, but he didn’t sell out to it. With the unique candor of the dying, he said he never sold his soul for a markup of bonds. He arrived at the end, with his soul in hand. He was glad he could say his soul was his own and now it is God’s. Each of us owe God ONE soul
Big Daddy Jones was a tough man. He was a high school hall of fame football player, played for The University of Memphis. He learned out to take a hit. He told me the story of teaching Patrick to take a hit. I won’t go into details, but it involved the back yard, a mattress, a football and Lewis. Patrick learned to take a hit, and I daresay, he learned to love a hit. It is safe to say that no football came near Patrick that he didn’t try to catch. Also, he learned to never give up, not ever. Even with numerous opponents hanging on for dear life, Patrick was headed downfield always toward the goal line with Lewis cheering on the sidelines. That’s not a bad way to remember him.
Lewis has joined that great company that cannot be numbered who believed in the Word Made Flesh. He has entered into the great story of Scripture. Near the end of the last chapter of the last book of the whole sweep of salvation history, we see the end and we like it. What do we see? The New Jerusalem has come down out of heaven. When we are able to take a peek at the wonders of it all, we see our old friend, The Tree of Life, standing by the water that springs up into everlasting salvation. There are also other old friends, twelve trees each bear its fruit for one of the months and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We are home and never even knew it. The place of leaving as well as the place of returning is one.
No longer, will we be bound by time/space and we shall see the Lamb that was slain. Having had all tears wiped away, we will get on with the business of worshiping the Holy One and that I’m reassured will never get old at all.
Angels, Evangelists/Creatures and Elders, myriads and myriads and myriads to the seventh power of tenors, basses, baritones, mezzo-sopranos, counter-tenors, altos of every timbre, coloratura sopranos joined by boys with their particularly other-worldly tone, joined by those who are tone-deaf with tin ears, and too scared to try: all of them every last one: all singing just as loud as they can and perhaps on that day any who want to can sing all parts of the chord at the same time and praise God, no one sings flat. Everything from Organs and Calliopes to brasses of every possible metal and size, joined by woodwinds both great and small, accompanied by drums of all nations and persuasions, lift their voices and sing as one, on that day, that great day.
And how could they not? For death, that dominates everything from actuarial tables to crop rotation; that with its bosom buddies, plague, famine, joined in our time by true believers, whose creed is death and worship murder. Death & company have stalked our ancestors and will our descendants on this planet from beginning to end, is defeated, and swallowed up by victory.
That has been true since that day, in one particular place in a small province of an ancient empire, the rumor of which has passed generation by generation to this day and beyond till Jesus comes. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
We shall take our seat with the great crowd of witnesses, Big Daddy Lewis among them. Let us comfort ourselves with the hope of the resurrection. To him be glory, now and forever. Amen
P. Jacques Hamel (1930-2016).
Requiescat in pace.
I suppose we all wonder from time to time as the cause and time of our own death. When Fr. Jacques awakened this morning he rose to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for his people at Saint Etienne. After 58 years of presiding at the table of the Lord in the midst of the Holy Mysteries, there was little that would have surprised him. However, this morning at this mass he was attacked at the altar by evil men who mixed his blood with the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Today, the faithful 84-year-old servant of Christ laid down his life for his faith. He is the most recent martyr for the sake of Christ. God grant us grace to follow his example.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.