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Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“ESTUARIES OF ETERNITY”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1 November 2015, All Saints Sunday, by Rev. Christa von Zychlin. The scripture readings that day were John 11:1-43 (Lazarus).


Cemeteries

Which holiday have we celebrated this weekend?

October 31 is Halloween and Nov. 1 is All Saints Day.

Back in the USA, as a young, crazy pastor, around this time of year our youth minister and I would take about a dozen of our high school students up to the church cemetery on the hill in Ames, Iowa.
.
We did this NOT in honor of Halloween but in honor of All Saints Day. We went at night, armed with warm coats, flashlights, and the Holy Scripture, we looked at different tombstones, found names of people we and the kids personally knew (some family members).

Once I overheard one of the girls say to her friend, “Eww, do you know there’s dead people underneath the ground where we’re walking right now?  And they both giggled and squealed a bit.

I didn’t mind her saying that, in fact I was glad.

She and her friend were doing something very important for all of us to do and that’s to acquaint ourselves with the reality of death, and what does it really MEAN to us Christians, when we put a body into the ground?

What does it mean when we put an urn of ashes into a crypt?

What does it mean when we walk by a cemetery?
            (I have many opportunities  to think about this, since there is a cemetery on the walk between my home on Tao Fung Shan Road and the Lutheran Theological Seminary where I work.)

Cemeteries have long been though of as “In between places” … a place where the living and the dead can still somehow meet. At its best, a cemetery can be a peaceful earthly garden that reminds us of the heavenly home for which we are destined.

But back in Ames, Iowa, the teenagers and youth director, and I walked around a little while, read tombstones, worked through a few nervous giggles, then we formed a circle and we read about the promise of eternal life from the Bible. Usually we would read the wonderful words from I Corinthians 15, the chapter on Eternal Life, including these words in verses 51f.:

Lo, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye…”

We sang a beautiful Taize song:

“Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”

and we prayed in remembrance of those who have passed away.

Last Thursday night a similar thing took place at Tao Fung Shan, with students from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Cambodia. I hope next year some of you will join us…

One of the people who joined us was a young daughter of a friend, who said it was her first time at a cemetery. She also said the experience was (and I quote) “kinda spooky.”

That’s okay. I’m glad she was honest. I’m glad she came because I do believe she is beginning to learn that for Christians, cemeteries don’t have to be scary or threatening places. For those of us who believe in Eternal Life through Jesus  Christ, cemeteries can be like an estuary of eternity.

Estuaries

Some of you will remember learning about estuaries when you were in school  An estuary is a place where a coastal river and an ocean meet, it is the place where fresh waters and open sea come together.

Life is rich and varied in the estuary, providing a shelter for land and sea creatures to feed and provide food for their young.

The aboriginal people of the northeastern USA, American Indians, called the estuaries the “between Land” not quite land and not quite water, not quite fresh water and not quite salt sea. They had yearly gatherings and banquets there, recognizing  that their own lives were closely linked to that meeting place of different life forms and physical forces of earth, water and the tidal pull of the moon.

In today’s gospel of John we find our selves in an estuary, not of the ocean, but of eternity. Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. This is no make- believe death, this is the real, stinking thing. In the scriptures we can see how the river of tears is unleashed, Lazarus’ sisters Mary & Martha are crying, their friends gathered for the three day funeral are crying. Even Jesus himself, did you catch it? Even Jesus himself cries. Death stinks. Death is awful. Death breaks your heart. Death is an enemy.

But then Jesus, with the full force of Eternity in his voice says: “Lazarus Come out.” And the dead man comes out. Only he’s not dead anymore! At that moment, the tidal power of God overcomes even the river of death & tears.

 We Christians also have access to estuaries of eternity today, places where earth & heaven intersect. These are also known as “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth is momentarily stripped away.

The Baptismal Font

For a Christian that place is NOT primarily the cemetery. From ancient times, Christians have believed one of those “thin places” is the baptismal font
[or a stream, or a swimming pool or any place there is water and the Word, where a baptism takes place]
when our individual lives flow into the Life of the Church. In the pouring waters of the sacrament of Baptism, the word of God says that both death & life happen right there, right then.

The Eastern Orthodox Church calls the baptismal font the tomb and the womb of the Church – it is a tomb, because here death happens. Here we are drowned to sin, We are buried with Christ. We are washed. And there is a kind of violence about it all… in seminary I was taught to welcome a child’s cries at baptism, and to use plenty of messy water at older child and adult baptisms…

And it is okay if people are a little shocked by it all, because something traumatic is taking place – every person is born into a world of sin, and the sin of this world has to be repudiated and must be turned down. Death must die, and so the baptismal font is a TOMB.

But then it is also the womb of the Church, where we are brought into new life; here we enter the kingdom of Heaven, the great adventurous Ocean of Life with God. And birth, too is messy, isn’t it?

Face to Face in Diakonia

And another estuary of eternity?

A place I have learned more about since moving to Hong Kong. A place I have learned more about as I have taken courses in Diakonia at LTS seminary and as I have learned from churches such as Kowloon Union Church… in places such as KUC Space, where rich and not so rich, asylum seeker and asylum giver, listen to each other. Take turns being needy and needed. Serve each other. Receive from each other.

In Christian service, face to face with the one who is so different from myself, and still, utterly and holy (wholly), God’s beloved child. There in prison, in the kitchen, at the courthouse, at the tutoring center, in acts of mutual diakonia, we are bathed in an estuary of eternity, and united mysteriously with those persons – maybe who have already passed on – who were models of mutual service to us.

The Communion Table

And one more most holy place I want to mention this morning:
the Communion Table. During the sacrament of the altar. When we sing the great Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy, we are taught that all of earth and heaven is united in praising God. When we come forward to the communion Table to receive the body and blood of our Lord, we are like a living river flowing  into the Ocean of God’s grace. Members of the one, holy catholic Church believe that at the time of the Eucharist, we are mysteriously surrounded by the saints who have gone before us into eternity.

This is where we are surely the closest to those who have gone before us: not at the cemetery, not at the gravesite, but when we on earth are receiving the communion bread, we are also receiving a foretaste of the feast being celebrated by ALL the beloved of God.

Isn’t it a grand mystery, that we can welcome each other this morning on All Saints Sunday, into an estuary of eternity.


Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 01, 2015



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