sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1
Sunday, by Rev. Christa
von Zychlin. The
scripture readings that day were John 11:1-43 (Lazarus).
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
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.)
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
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
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.
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
Life is rich and
varied in the estuary, providing a shelter for land and sea creatures to feed
and provide food for their young.
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.
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
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
a stream, or a swimming pool or any place there is water and the Word, where a
baptism takes place]
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.
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?
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.
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
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.