23rd Aug, 2009

The Eleventh Sunday After Trinity

by Fr. Ian Elliott Davies

I Kings 6:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Eph 6:10-20
St John 6:56-69

If you have ever attended a traditional funeral you will know that there are some marvelously evocative, powerful and allusive moments that mark the rehearsal of the funeral liturgy, the passing from this world into the next of our departed brother or sister, the committal, the censing and aspersing of the casket, then at the graveside there is the lowering of the casket into the earth, handfuls of soil scattered over the coffin lid, dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return: the remarkable fixity of the graveyard, the Churchyard.

As you make your way to the grave side, you may often walk past headstones, family markers, quite literal staging posts for us – Stopping to read the names – Auntie Dorothy, Uncle Frank, Cousin Bert, Before our minds very often are conjured memories of family reunions, weddings, Christenings, other funerals, happy memories of Aunt Dorothy’s famous one-liners, remarks that always evoked, “God, I can’t believe that she actually said that!” And the not so happy memories of illness and suffering.

And of course, gently, we are no longer just in the present – on a warm summer afternoon in the cemetery of Forest Lawn or Hollywood Forever. Our memories take us back in time, and these memories give the present a savour and a texture that reminds us that we as human beings are immersed, live in history-we have, we are a past that shapes our present and helps us navigate our way into and through the future. The heart in pilgrimage.

Something similar is happening at the consecration of the Temple by King Solomon- we have the king rehearsing and retelling the events that have made that day what it is, the staging posts of sacred memory. In the Hebrew Scriptures Almighty God is always reminding his people of His faithful love from one generation to another: He is the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Israel and Jacob, the Lord God of King David- who brought you up from the land of Egypt. God and His people share a history.

We also gather as people of memory. We remember Christ the Living Bread, Our Divine Lord Whose passion, death and resurrection leads us from sin and death to hope and life immortal. We gather to remember and to enter into Christ’s eternal Passover from death to eternal glory, the firm foundation on which we are built as God’s own people. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. To forget why we gather risks wandering aimlessly into the future with no road maps, no markers, no orientation of where we have come from, where we are or, just as dangerous, who we are. Spiritual amnesia creates a vacuum filled with trivial fears and worthless stuff, the flotsam and jetsam of a rootless soul:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

That’s what I worry about when I see the allure of the novel, the recently invented enthralling the imaginations of those who are convinced they know more than previous generations. But listen to St. Peter today- Christ has been telling the people about the Cross; many of them now wander away-for them this plan is a “non-starter”. Christ then turns to face up to his apostles-“do you also want to go?” There is a universe of anxiety in those words: they are tender, gentle, fearful: do you also want to turn away? And then St Peter says it so well, so succinctly- “Where else would we go- thou hast the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that thou art the Holy One of God.” Hear the deep yearning in St Peter’s voice “Where else would we go?” How would we ever navigate the wilderness of the human heart without thee O Lord?

Perhaps in our modern, over-stimulated world we might add a note of the world-weary to St Peter’s remarks “Where else could we go?” Once we have the promise of meaning, the promise of consolation and grace in Christ, the Living Bread who feeds us in the desert and wilderness, no substitutes will do. Nothing else and no one else can be our Polaris, our North Star.

“Where else would we go?” God knows there are times when we get confused enough-wander away- annoyed, resentful, impatient with God’s patient grace, steady nurturing. In these times when we have gone elsewhere, wandered off into some other bleak, blind alleyway we need to remember Christ saying -jogging our memory-“Do this in memory of me” hoc facite in meam commemorationem the aide memoir of the spirit;

Sisters and Brothers we need to gather and to tell the story-to live the sacrifice and the worship. We join as brothers and sisters in the Lord as we walk to the communion table-our hearts touch the memory that we live with St Peter, St Thomas and all the apostles-Lord, thou hast the words of everlasting life- Where else would we go?

A parable for meditation
Walter Wangerin wrote about finding his son reading a big stack of comic books. “Where did those come from?” “I took them out of the library.” “You mean you borrowed them?” “No. . .” So Wangerin marched his son to the library and made him apologize to the librarian, who delivered a stern lecture about stealing. That was the end of that. Until the father found another stack of comic books. “Where did you get these?” There was no use in lying. “When we were on vacation last summer I stole them from the store.” It was too late to return them, so the father ripped up the comic books and threw them into the fireplace.

When the son stole comic books a third time, his father said he was going to have to spank him — not a common occurrence in the Wangerin household. Five spanks later, his head hanging in shame, the boy was holding back tears. The father excused himself, stepped out of the room and sobbed.

Years later the son and his mother were reminiscing about those days. “After that incident with Dad, I never stole anything again,” he said. “I’m sure that spanking cured you,” said his mother. “Oh no,” the young man replied, “it was because when Dad stepped out of the room I could hear him crying.”

If anything can help us decide to live in obedience to God’s word it is knowing God’s heart. Our disobedience and our abstinence break God’s heart. Perhaps knowing that might help us make better choices today and tomorrow.




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