Archive for May, 2014


“Immortal diamond: I want to hold your hand”
Easter Sunday; April 20, 2014
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
©Vernon K. Rempel
Worship leader – Michael Regier

Bible reading: Bible reading – John 20:11-16
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

Good Easter to each one of you.
​It is a privilege to be gathered here with you.
​​For a chance to see friends,
to reflect on ancient wisdom
​to sing some beautiful music.

By the way, even though today is 4/20
​and there are many events downtown
​​we are not going to have a joint worship service.

“I want to hold your hand”

Back to our Easter story!
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

And so death is turned over from separation to relationship.

Here is a story I love about relationship:
It was Thanksgiving time. People were to call in to the radio show All Songs Considered with a song that kind of named their family gathering at Thanksgiving.

Many were celebrations: We are family, by Sister Sledge.
Some were poignant: Still crazy after all these years, by Paul Simon.
Some were about the common family struggle: We’re on the highway to hell.
If I had called in, I might have offered the song “America” by Simon and Garfunkel “I’ve gone to look for America”, since my family has always been about exploration and seeking new experiences and understandings.

But one story stood out to me in the podcast.
​It was about young love.
​​A woman called in and offered the song
​​​I want to hold your hand, by the Beatles.

She said that she and this young man
​had met and been getting acquainted via the internet.
​​It had been going very well.

But now they were meeting for the first time in person.
​They had arranged to meet at a restaurant.
​​They got out of their respective cars
​​​and began walking side by side
​​​​toward the restaurant.

As they were walking,
​he turned to her and asked:
​​do you need something to do with that hand?

And so they held hands.
​And she said they have been together ever since,
​​married 10 years,
​​​a 3-year old daughter….

This story is a romance
​but it is not only about romantic love.

Here we have the deep connective tissue of the universe.
Here we have what David Bentley Hart says
is centrally true about God:

“The Spirit is the one in whom … love most manifestly opens out as sheer delight, generosity, and desire for the other.”
(Read 2x)
(p175 The Beauty of the Infinite)

The love of the “I want to hold your hand story”
is not just for romance.
It is God’s character
and therefore the character of all creation,

and therefore the character of all friendships, all society,
even Mennonite churches
trying to follow the great path of Jesus Christ
in our lives:

“sheer delight, generosity, and desire for the other.”
​That is the undistorted life, the true divine intention,
​​in sorrow and in joy, in hard times and easier times,

it is for us the love that takes delight,
​that longs for the presence and well being of the other
​​and indeed for all people: the common good,
​​​a blessing for all humanity and all creation.

“Ham salad sandwiches”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him “Teacher”!

And so death is turned over from separation to relationship.

And so death is turned over from separation to relationship.
​It is of course always separation.
​​Death is the great and terrible goodbye.

So much dying among us.
​So much tearing apart of relationship.
​​So much loss in all the earth,​
​​​as if we were born to die,
​​​​and life is here merely to be scattered
​​​​​to the four winds.

Some early death certificates had this simply written on them:
​Broke what breaks. We die because we were born;
​​because we are mortal; because that is, after all, life.
— Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker 4/7/14

And that is certainly true.

In the Midwest, as you may know
​ham salad was the constant food for funerals.

In the days before cremation was often the practice,
​the funeral had to be held quickly.

Ham salad was probably used because it is easy to make.
​The ham is already cooked,
​​just grind it up and add the relish and mayo.

Then with love it is brought to the church,
​for the meal that had to be convened too quickly.
​​Ham salad eaten together

before our hearts could bring ourselves to say goodbye.

And yet our hearts remain unsatisfied with that story,
​with that ending.

It’s not quite the right ending,
​It’s like the movie they couldn’t figure out
​​how to end well so they sort of just ended it.

And it’s not only because we may miss our loved ones so much,
​or that we carry accumulated regrets
​​about the dying process
​​​or about how we lived.

Those may all be in it for us.
​But the story does not finally ring true to our hearts
​​because if we listen closely
​​​if we listen well with deep reflection

our hearts want to teach us something else,
​and it is of course something else about love,

something about a love that does not prevent goodbyes
​does not take away the goodbyes
​​but rather takes another look at the goodbyes
​​​and discovers not just devastation

(that is still there; our hearts still feel it)

but also a deeper river, a finer beauty of truth,
​a lovely and warm beckoning hearth
​​that transcends all that we know as life and death

and so the mystery is how the human heart
​climbing out of great devastation
​​time and again turns itself to love

love that not only holds on, although that is really something
​love that not only rebuilds, although that is really something

but love that turns and delights in the gifts of life
​all around us

even when we do not want it,
​even when we reject the beauty
​​still there is love

and if nothing else, others carry it for us
​and so the mystery is carried

and so the mystery remains,
​as old Paul, convinced and amazed by love,
​​but also experienced in much suffering,
​​​wrote in a letter to his friends in Rome:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8)

As Hart puts it:
“The Spirit is the one in whom … love most manifestly opens out as sheer delight, generosity, and desire for the other.”

Or as the young man in the story asked the young woman
​“Do you need something to do with that hand?”

How may we extend such delighted community to each other?

“River art”
We are talking about resurrection today.
​And about the love that teaches us about resurrection.

Of course it is a mystical, intuitive story.
​Some people understandably remain unconvinced.
​​Did you hear about the unbeliever who died
​​​and went to heaven?

When he saw the shining gold streets and the gates of pearl,
​he exclaimed “I don’t believe it!”

Or did you hear about the liberal seminarians
​who died and went to heaven?
​​One gate said “Heaven”.
​​​Another gate said “Seminar about heaven.”

But if you need a real seminar about heaven,
you’re in the right place.

We are talking today about eternal love,
​and a community – this community –
​​that holds the practice of eternal delighted love
​​​near to our hearts.

If you haven’t yet done so,
​take a look at the gorgeous river art installation on our wall.

Each Sunday of Lent, this community has celebrated
​the waters of life, the waters of baptism
​​by adding to this river of life.

There are personal notes on some of the papers,
​but look at the powerful beauty that is a combination
​​of great artistic planning
and the collective action and play of the community.

We have held community together in these weeks.
​What could be better?

Now here is the inevitable Easter ministers’ joke
​for those of you who seeing this river for the first time.

A parishioner was coming out of church one day, and the pastor was standing at the door to greet folks. He grabbed the parishioner by the hand and pulled him aside. The Pastor said to him, “Friend, you need to join the Army of the Lord!” The parishioner replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.” The pastor questioned, “How come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?” The parishioner whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
(source: http://www.jokes4us.com/holidayjokes/easterjokes/easteronelinersjokes.html)

Easter! Welcome to all:
Skeptics and intuitive believers,
those with joy in their hearts
and those whose lives are infused with loss.

Welcome strong holders of community
​and those who are in the secret service.

Welcome dreamers and welcome if you are afraid,
afraid of disease or loneliness, or even death,
which is the ultimate shadow and subject of Easter

The joyful gospel of Christ walks right in to the story of death
and explores and finds it’s cry and voice about the matter.

The voice of love.
​For God so loved the world.
​​Love one another.
​​​The greatest of these is love.

“Memorial service”
The first memorial service I did as a young pastor
​was for a young woman
She and her husband had just adopted a son.
Then she died of a recurrence of ovarian cancer.

I preached, beginning with the words of Woody Allen:
​The problem with death is that it is so inconvenient.

As I recall, it was spring. At least it was warm.
​The world was lovely.
​​And this young woman had died,
​​​leaving her young husband and their son.

Very inconvenient.
​Very… inconvenient….

I ended my mediation for her
​with a reflection based on Robert Frost’s poem
​​Swinger of Birches

I imagined her climbing into the birch tree
​like Frost’s boy in the woods,
​​ getting out on the limb
​​​and swinging down and down

but for her, not only the forest floor
​but that she curved down into the arms of God.
​​But those were words for the memorial.

As she was dying,
​there came a time when there was nothing to do
​​nothing to say but to simply be there.

To be with her and to bear witness to her life
​and to her dying.

Parker Palmer notes that to sit with a dying person
​is what needs to be done,
​​and in fact is all that can be done.

There is finally nothing to fix, and so
​there is nothing to do.

But it is also a time to attend, to listen,
​to be present

And so while there is nothing to fix,
​it is also not a time to avoid being there.

We do have the impulse to try to fix.
​And we do have the impulse to avoid,
​​to maybe hide behind a book or the morning news.

But at the time when dying is coming,
​there is only one thing for it, and that is to
​​pay attention, to sit with
​​​to bear witness to the moment.

This moment of great mortality
​finding a connection to immortality

As Hopkins puts it:
Flesh fade, and mortal trash​
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:​
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,​
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and​
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,​
Is immortal diamond.
— 48. That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity – Ryan Stone – says at one point:
“I know, we’re all gonna die. Everybody knows that. But I’m going to die today.”

Well, we don’t know when we’re going to die.

Whether we’re going to die today, or shortly,
​or after some years,

What we can do, since truly we are all dying,
​is to bear witness to each others’ lives.

We can try to fix each other a bit less
​and just bear witness

We can try not to avoid each other in our hard times
​and just bear witness

in the great community of love
​we can bear witness to each other’s lives

we can hold each other’s lives,
​and live with each other in ways that help us
​​to grow in becoming
more honorable,
more courageous,
​​​more full of wonder
​​​stronger in good planning
​​​more decisive in getting the good done
​​​willing to create and hold solidarity
but most of all to walk with each other,
​hold each other,
​​view in other

from the perspective of Christ,
​which is the perspective of eternal love
​​the perspective of the immortal diamond

or perhaps just from the perspective of delighted love
​saying to each other in some kind and joyful way

bearing witness to each other’s lives,
​we might in some way say

do you need something to do with that hand?

And so love.
​And so love.
​​So the birch bends down
and Jesus falls from forsakenness
​​​​into love

and meets Mary in the garden.

And so we fall from forsakenness
​and into love.

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