It has been quite busy here in Kansas City. We had clergy conference, diocesan convention, and our little baseball team did pretty well for itself (more on that later.)
Our choir was also asked to join with the choir of St. Mary’s downtown to sing the Faure Requiem in an actual requiem service. To be nice, the rector of St. Mary’s asked me to assist and preach at the service as well.
Now, our choir is awesome, and basically can do anything they set their minds to. (For the World Series, they sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Latin.). So I wasn’t worried about them.
But, despite my high-church leanings, I have never participated in an outright Anglo-Catholic, please-move-into-the-eastward-facing-formation-now service. We had to practice. I had to study my bulletin. It was a trip. So much moving around, and facing inward, than outward, and bowing in unison, then talking to yourself, then bowing again! I could feel myself steadily becoming more Protestant as the experience wore on.
(This never fails–no sooner do I start to feel overly Protestant, then I go to a low-church style event, and feel my inner Catholic look around for some icons and incense. I’m a good Episcopalian.)
The service, however, turned out beautifully, and as expected, the choirs were great. (WAY better than my high school choir when we sang that piece.) I only made one mistake, and didn’t trip over myself. I even remembered which lectern I was supposed to go to and when! #winning!
Here’s what I said.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
November, 5, 2015
Commemoration of the Dead
1 Thessalonians 13
If you stand in the Old City of Jerusalem, and look towards the Mount of Olives, you will see what looks like a heap of rubble—an entire mountainside gleaming with heaps of broken rocks. It breaks up the piles of dirty buildings, apartments, churches and mosques, stacked up on each other haphazardly which marks this section of the city—this stretch of shining, bright white.
I assumed, when I first saw it, that it was like much else in East Jerusalem—another remnant of fighting. The remains of something important which was no longer, and just hadn’t been cleaned up yet.
But when I wandered over one day to investigate, I discovered that it was, in fact, an ancient graveyard. It’s the oldest in the city—at least 3,000 years old—with tombstones heaped upon each other so densely that there wasn’t room for anything else. Any square inch of space was immediately pressed into service for another marker—which is why, from a distance, it looks like a pile of rubble.
People started to use this as a burial ground because it faced the Temple Mount, and according to Jewish thought, when the resurrection from the dead comes, it begins there. So those buried facing the Temple Mount have front row seats, and are raised first.
So, It’s crowded.
And, of course, the end-times obsession can be found over here, on our own shores as well. The Walking Dead, The Last Man on Earth, The Matrix, Left Behind, The Leftovers, Kimmy Schmidt, preppers on TLC, you name it; countless TV shows, movies and books—all having to do with what happens when the world ends—either by zombie attack, or act of God. I went to the Royals parade and rally on Tuesday with apparently, the entire population of the metro area, and as a big stream of us walked across the Broadway bridge, effectively shutting down traffic, a kid behind me marveled that it was like the world had ended.
Not that the city had momentarily stopped, not that we had done something cool—“hey, it’s like the apocalypse is here.”
We’re obsessed. And so, it matters what we believe about the end. It matters where our beliefs come from. Because, as you no doubt have noticed from watching the Middle East conflicts for millennia—elbows get thrown over stuff like this. It matters.
Much of what floats around in the American air right now is actually derived from this 1 Thessalonians text. A guy in Scotland, named James Francis Darby was reading this passage in the mid 1800s and decided to divorce it from its surrounding verses and interpreted it in a new way. He used it to describe an event he termed The Rapture, where those alive whom Christ deemed worthy would be physically lifted up into the air to be saved from the coming devastation when Christ returned to destroy the unworthy.
It did not catch on. But it soon travelled across the pond, and became really popular here—because there is nothing America likes better than when something or someone gets devastated. Darby invented the whole “Rapture” thing, and it’s entirely based on this one verse in 1 Thessalonians.
WHICH IS NOT AT ALL WHAT PAUL IS TALKING ABOUT. (As you could probably already tell, using those helpful skills you learned in elementary school known as context-clues.)
Paul is writing to the community at Thessalonica—a city in what is now Turkey. This community was faced with a growing problem that was causing a lot of distress—its members were dying. Not necessarily from Roman persecutions, though there was probably some of that going on, but also from normal stuff like sickness, and old age, and the things people die from. And the church was left wondering if that meant God had forgotten those people. Maybe they would get left out when Jesus came back. Maybe these people, their friends and family whom they loved, would get left behind. Maybe something was wrong with them, so that’s why God had let this happen.
So Paul writes this to them, to reassure them. To let them know that no one is getting left out. In fact, God is going to work a new thing, and somehow save EVERYONE—even those who have already died. Because God’s salvation extends even into the depths of the grave, even into death itself. And no one is out of reach.
It is, perhaps, a testimony to how insidious the human urge to divide is, that in our times, we have taken this message of hope and turned it into a message of desolation and threat. Instead of magnifying the good news here, somehow, we got it turned around and made it more of what surrounds us everyday. More threat and fear and destruction–the rubble we live in daily.
That’s the stuff we’re already acquainted with, it’s the things that make up our world–and perhaps it’s because we’re so well-acquainted with it that we ascribe it to God as well. We have become so used to being surrounded by these things, to living in rubble, that we begin to believe that it was God who did the destroying in the first place.
Yet Paul reminds us that we have it the wrong way around. God didn’t make this mess–we have. God doesn’t want to destroy creation–that’s us, with our weapons, and wars and disregard for the earth. God doesn’t want to wipe out humanity–that’s our game, in our calculated collateral damage and our insistence that some are just more human than others.God doesn’t want us to overcome our material bodies–that’s our fear, with our constant overwork, and our disregard for our own health.
But the truth is–God cares deeply for this world. God has no wish to threaten or destroy us. Instead, God works through our very rubble to recreate what is, into what God wills it to be. Every bit of this present brokenness. All of it–all of our grief, our sadness, our anger, our hurt–God works, bears it with us, through it to bring about the healing of this entire creation. It is out of the rubble of this world that God brings about redemption.
Because there is nothing, no brokenness that we can dish out, no hardship that we can imagine, no rubble so great, that God in Christ will not accompany us through. Not even death itself.
And so, we can stand at the very center of our rubble, and the edge of the grave, and be confident in the love of Christ, enough to make our song: “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia”