The Sunday After All Saints Day

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.

all-souls-day

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.

john-polkinghorne

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.”

Peace,
John W. Sewell+

Benjamin Lane Carrick, Jr.

Note: Today I buried a fine young man full of grace and staggering potential.  His father found him dead when he did not arrive for dinner on Christmas Eve.  It has been a difficult week of inconsolable pain for the loss to his family but also to the human community.  I share with you the homily I preached this morning.  Have a purposeful new year.

©John W. Sewell

Lane Jr.

September 14, 1994 – December 24, 2015

December 31, 2016 ∞ Saint John’s Episcopal Church ∞ Memphis, Tennessee

Today we gather in this holy place to do what Christians always do when they gather:

• We come to tell the story,
• We come to quiet the fear in our hearts –
• And we come to speak to the hope that is in us.

WE COME TO TELL THE STORY

The story begins with Lane. It is the story of a son, brother, nephew, grandson and friend. Family, beloved that Lane loved with a clear and pure heart, not without a bit of cloudy haze from time to time, especially when he was in trouble usually because of a bone-headed immaturity. Then he was winsome, twinkle in the eyes, puppy dog eyes, inspiring if not at exactly forgiveness a weakening of the will bordering, at times, on indulgence, because he had no mean bones in his skeleton.

Lane loved his friends with joyful extravagance. There are friends of every sort crossing all the customary lines, constructed to keep people from reaching each other, race, class, economics, and sexual orientation. Let me modify, that he had no tolerance for bullies and was not a silent observer to such evil. He had learned early,

what I know to be true at 64, namely, that it is important to tell friends, especially the men in your life, that you love them.I ’m many of you squirmed at first or maybe always. But are you not glad this day for having those words? Remember that among yourselves. You need to hear it and you need to say it. Nothing takes its place.

Lane’s story merges with the big of story of the coming of Jesus among us, one of us, fully human that through his death and resurrection not only see authentic humanity (which is what God wants for us) but also by grace that we reach for that full, authentic humanity. But, I get ahead of myself,

I’ll come back to hope in a minute.

WE COME TO QUIET THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS.

Our story fades into fear. There is a fear in our hearts. We are speechless with sadness, we are angry that such accidents happen. Why couldn’t Lane be more careful? His absence, his real absence is racking. We long to know if existence has meaning.We want things to mean something. Why did God do this? I don’t believe God did.

I believe that God made creation with certain degrees of freedom. In the mystical Jewish teaching, God chose to no longer be all that there is in order for creation to be genuinely free. God contracted, making room for creation. In that contraction, creation was made free.

God has made us for himself, our sacred text tells us that. Sacred texts of most of humanity tell us that.

God’s ultimate desire is for us to come to Him, how soon that happens is not of great import to God although it is of ultimate concern to us. – Reynolds Price

Of late, however, we began to see the trajectory of a good and loving man as Lane began to grow up, finding and doing a responsible job to the delight of his family and perhaps more importantly his boss.Nothing I say is a feather bed, nor an opiate of forgetfulness and there is not a quick fix.

What is happening in us regardless of how well we knew him is suffering. We know that through our bodies. All communication is through the matter of our bodies. What we know is that we hurt. Emotions too powerful to control have sprung a leak somewhere in our faces and water leaks out.

What is God’s will for us? My teacher, Rabbi Freedman put it simply, “God’s will is that we grow up!” How do we grow up? We grow up by facing challenge. Does God have to plan challenge? Of course not. The universe is rich with possibility, fruitful circumstance with perhaps infinite permutations. There is not conspiracy. Our choices are real ones. All choices are real ones, making real differences. We get no pass from mistake, accident or the choice of others. Gravity is unrelenting regardless of our virtue or how much we are loved. We quiet our fear by hope.

WE COME TO SPEAK TO THE HOPE THAT IS IN 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. (Lane’s career was hospitality. See with me today: I suspect he has thrown himself into working the perpetual party of God’s intention. Think of choosing the wine. If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is an echo of Isaiah’s party plan.

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. Not only is God throwing a party, He will remove the disgrace of his people. And he 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.
This is the mystery of faith.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.Unspoken but true is the fact that: We will die, We will rise and Christ will come again and we will be with him. Book of Common Prayer

As John wrote in his first Epistle,“We are all children of God, and yet it has not been revealed what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be in his likeness; for we shall see him as he is.” I John 3:

We shall be raised even as he was raised. We shall be in his likeness for we share a family resemblance.

John quotes in the 14th Chapter of his Gospel the words of Jesus, ” 1. Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4. And whither I go ye know… ” KJV

When we approach God’s house, filled with all amenities we can imagine and delights we cannot, we will see approaching, with a wide smile, Lane Carrick Jr. will welcome those he loved and loves eternally.  It would be difficult to know his as he, even now, is adorned with all the qualities God had in mind when he made him. It would unless we too will be in the same fullness of being.

Today we lay Lane’s bodily remains to rest in the Saint John’s Cemetery. The word cemetery is a Christian term. In the ancient world the term for a burial place was necropolis or city of the dead. The Christian hope of the resurrection produced a new term, cemetery, from the Greek word for sleep. Believers sleep in Christ for they are not dead forever, but sleep awaiting his call at the last day.

We part from Lane this day but as we travel to the same destination in due season we shall be reunited in that place where there is there is no sorrow nor sighs but life and that life everlasting.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The Walking Dead or The Raised Dead?

The Third Sunday after Pentecost

Tissot_son_of_the_widow_in_nain

Son of the Widow in Nain – James Tissot

LUKE 7: 11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, [means “lovely” or “pleasant” (Na’im). Though the location is uncertain, the site is probably the modern Arab town of Nein, six miles southeast of Nazareth. Only time mentioned anywhere] and his disciples and a large crowd went with him.  12 As Jesus approached the gate [Archeology – walls so there was a gate] of the town, a man who had died was being carried out.

In the First Century the dead Necropolis (city of dead) were always outside the walls of a town.  There is a reason we do not call our burial place down the street, the Saint John’s Necropolis.  Christians took the name Cemetery as the name of our burial place.

Why?  It comes from the word for sleeping – our dead or not so much dead as they are sleeping, waiting for the trumpet on that great day.   That being the case, Christians buried their dead right next to the Church door.

Jesus sees what he sees:

  • He was his mother’s only son,
  • and she was a widow;   She has lost her protector for the second time…
  • and with her was a large crowd from the town. [there is a shadow of things to come: The Virgin Mary, the Widow Mary also lost her son on Good Friday – though Jesus gave her a new son from the cross.

A procession of death met a procession of life.

  • According to Jewish burial customs,
  • the body was washed, eyes closed, mouth bound shut, anointed with spices, then wrapped in a linen cloth, laid on a plank, bier, or an open coffin..
  • Burial took place within 24 hours to avoid witnessing decomposition.
  • The poor were buried in shallow graves in potters fields, the wealthy in tombs.

13 When the Lord first time Luke calls Jesus – LORD- saw her, he had compassion [his heart went out to her] for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” According to tradition, the next of kin walked ahead of the body, so Jesus would have met her first.

At this moment when hope was all gone… Jesus met the procession and seeing the widow bent over in grief, his heart went out to her (splankna) and he did what anyone would do if they could, he removed the cause for her bereavement.

  • His feelings welled up in him, and he was moved out of himself toward someone who was overcome by life.
  • Jesus Himself was the son of a widow [scene by the gate is a shadow of Good Friday and beyond]
  • For the first time, Luke refers to Jesus as the Lord, particularly fitting as he exercises power over death itself.

14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the pall-bearers stood still. This is very illuminating:  You do not touch dead bodies or things associated with them!  If you touch it then you are ritually unclean. But notice the reversal here: here is the comic moment, comedy, at a funeral?

Not slapstick, beloved, comedy.  It’s this way! No, it’s after all and every one laughs.  This is the theme of every classic cartoon – the steamroller runs over Donald Duck – he’s flatter than a pancake – but no, he pops back – this reversal is at the very core of the Good News. So here’s the joke (if you can’t get the joke you will never get the Gospel as Frederick Buechner put put it once.).

Now, here it comes, you are defiled by touching a corpse – but only if the corpse stays dead!   (Jesus’ authority reverses the defilement, “cleansing” the corpse through Christ’s power over death.) And he said, “Young man,  I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Herbert O’Driscoll, one of the greatest Anglican preachers of my lifetime, says that we look in two directions in all sermons:

  • First:  THEM, THEN, THERE
  • Second: WE, HERE, NOW (Where is the now in the sermon?)

I pondered that question for a couple of days and then this question occurred to me?

How many of you watch The Walking Dead?

the-walking-dead-alternative-posterI keep thinking I will but I just can’t make myself to it.   What’s with Zombies? I confess I don’t like zombies.  Their rising popularity is a mystery to me.  Vampires I get, werewolves I get and ghosts I get, zombies not so much.

No, I am not a bigot!  I will not accept the moniker of prejudice either.  In point of fact, some of my best friends are dead.  I expect to be dead myself. However, if you are dead it seems the decent thing to do would be to stay that way (or at least until Jesus’ appearing in glory).

Psychologists seem to think that to see or dream that you are a zombie, suggests that you are physically and/or emotionally detached from people and situations that are currently surrounding you. You are feeling out of touch. Alternatively, a zombie means that you are feeling dead inside. You are just going through the motions of daily living.  To dream that you are attacked by zombies, indicate that you are feeling overwhelmed by forces beyond your control. You are under tremendous stress in your waking life. Alternatively, the dream represents your fears of being helpless and overpowered.

Resurrection of the Widow's son from Nain - Lucas Cranach, the younger. c. 1569

Resurrection of the Widow’s son from Nain – Lucas Cranach, the younger. c. 1569

I can testify that many among us, particularly the young adults, feel that they will not do as well as their parents.  The myth of inevitable progress has failed. No more can we assume that the next generation of Americans will do better than the last generation just because they are the next generation of Americans. A lot of people feel half dead, walking dead and decomposing as they go.

As I think spiritually, I suggest that the rise of the undead seems a creepy secular facsimile of resurrection (and not a very good one either).  Zombie movies may be entertaining but they are really very bad theology. We believe in the resurrection of the body, but those God raises are completely raised not living dead but living and not dead at all!

That is the point that Luke makes in the last half of chapter 7:  you don’t think there is any hope and yet I’m here to tell you that even at the grave of the only son of a “widow-woman” (as folks say in Alabama)  there is hope.

16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

A famous preacher named Mosley once looked into the Bible to see how Jesus did funerals only to learn that Jesus didn’t do funerals!  Jesus did resurrections!  On that day on the way to grave just past the city gate at Nain, compassion flowed from Jesus, love wrapped around that widow and touched that young man and he sat straight up talking a mile a minute – You see that The Rev. Mosley was right Jesus didn’t do funerals just resurrections.

Christ raising the dead - Louisa Anne, Marchioness of Waterford

Christ raising the dead – Louisa Anne, Marchioness of Waterford

All that Jesus did was done by his obedience to God. Jesus was so open to God that God’s power God’s love simply flowed through him like water through an empty hose.  We are called to available to God – open like an empty hose – is to water – “These things and greater shall you do because I go to the Father. And if I go to the Father the Comforter, the Spirit will come, and when he comes he will dwell with you and in you.

When the community of faith is filled with the Holy Spirit it too sits up and begins to talk!  All sorts of things happen.  We are not as those who have no hope.  We don’t need to be no stinkin’ zombies when we are raised  to newness of life by our Lord Jesus.