Sermon Mark 5:22-24, 35b-43; Christ the King / Eternity Sunday – November 26th, 2017

 

Every fall I recall a poem I had to learn in school. It just captures the mood the end of the year beautifully and profoundly. It is by Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke and is called ‘Fall’, and I am reading a translation by Guntram Deichsel:

The leaves are falling, falling as from far 
Where distant with’ring gardens grace the skies, 
Theyr’e falling with a gesture that denies.

And in the nights the heavy earth falls by 
Into the loneliness, from a far star.

We all are falling. This hand falls, as it extends. 
And take a look at others. It’s in them all.

Let me stop here for now. This poem of course seems to be countercultural in this day and age and in our culture. We celebrate life and youth and youthfulness, we do everything in our power to prolong life, even though the quality of life may be gone. We don’t like to think about our finality and our mortality, we don’t like to think or talk about death. We make fun of all of that on Halloween, and during the end of the church year, which deals with the questions of mortality and eternity, we already start decking the halls with bows of holly, cause it’s the season to be jolly, and many chase the darkness of the season away with exceedingly bright light displays.

We have forgotten to grieve. Partly, because the world tells us to get over it, to move on, to live life. So we often cover up our grief, we quickly hide it somewhere deep inside us.

We can try to shut out the thought of our mortality, but death at some point catches up with us – all of us, no matter, what skin color, what language, no matter if we are rich and powerful or poor and meek. Sometimes death sends us a cold shudder from afar, when we hear about the untimely death of people in the news – when we learn about those who couldn’t escape the fire storm, or about the victims of the latest senseless mass shooting.

Sometimes, someone we know dies. Sometimes, someone who is close to us is taken away from us – a friend, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a child. In such times, we can’t escape or deny the reality of death, but have to deal with it.

And the older we get, the more people we lose. Then there comes the point when we are confronted with our own mortality and death. Try as we may, we can’t escape it. We all fall, often with a gesture that denies.

We are not the only ones who counter death with a gesture that denies. In the gospels we have numerous accounts of the healing power of Jesus Christ. He even brings some people back to life: Lazarus, a young man, and the 12 year old daughter of the synagogue leader Jairus. Jesus has compassion with those who grieve, Jesus knows about the hurt we feel when someone we love dies. Jesus cares. And in and through these stories we learn how God says ‘No’ to the power of death.

And though Christ may not walk among us today and raise those death took way too soon, these stories give us hope and confidence that death does not have the last word. First and foremost we see and experience this through the cross and the empty tomb on Easter morning. Christ’s resurrection is the ultimate gesture that denies.

This may not entirely take our fear of death away. This may not even comfort us entirely as we grieve the loss of a person who is close to us. This even doesn’t make sense of all the senseless violent deaths in this world. Death is still a reality, a reality which is often harsh. But in our fear, in our grief, in our anger, we can have defiant hope. (Light a candle.)

This is the dark season, during which we think a lot about death and the dead. This is a good and proper thing to do, and we shouldn’t try to chase such thoughts away through excessive jolliness, the ‘holiday spirit’ and bright light displays, as with a gesture that denies. Instead I invite you to gently bring light and thus hope into the darkness, which surrounds out. Light a candle for the people you mourn. Light a candle for all your grief. Let the light so shine a little bit more brightly every Sunday in Advent, as you light your candles on the Advent wreath, first one, then two, then three, then four. And don’t forget to let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.

This world doesn’t need more denial. This world needs hope. A hope that we have and a hope that we are called to share with all the world. The hope that love will have the last word over hatred and indifference, that reconciliation will have the last word over violence, that hope that God has the last word over death.

Rainer Maria Rilke knows about this hope. And so, in closing, let me recite the entire poem ‘Fall’:

The leaves are falling, falling as from far 
Where distant with’ring gardens grace the skies, 
Theyr’e falling with a gesture that denies.

And in the nights the heavy earth falls by 
Into the loneliness, from a far star.

We all are falling. This hand falls, as it extends. 
And take a look at others. It’s in them all.

And yet there’s One, holding this fall 
With endless gentleness in both his hands.

Amen

 

 

This post is also available in: German