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Life of the dead

June 30th, 2010 by isaac · 4 Comments

I haven’t been preaching much this summer. The church has given me a wonderful break, which I have spent traveling around visiting other Mennonite congregations in the U.S.

But last Sunday I was back at church in Chapel Hill and got to preach. Much of my sermon was a reflection on a Mennonite church I visited in Boonsboro, Maryland—Mt. Zion Mennonite Church. They have a beautiful cemetery next to the church building. The way the building grows up from the graveyard made me think about how the dead live on through us. As Walt Whitman put it, Grass is the uncut hair of the graves. Likewise, church is the uncut hair of the great cloud of witnesses. I should also say that Robert Pogue Harrison’s book, The Dominion of the Dead, has been extremely helpful in thinking through all of this.

Here’s an excerpt from my sermon:

We need the dead, but the dead also need us. That’s what so interesting to me about this passage from Hebrews. This is from verse 39: “Yet all of these…did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (11:39). They would not, apart from us, be made perfect. I don’t know if the word “perfect” is the best translation of the Greek word there. The root of the word, in Greek, is telos—and it means something like “to bring to an end, to complete, to finish.” Basically, the point is that the dead have not been brought to an end. They continue on. Their lives have not been completed. They are not finished. The dead have been waiting for us, that we may complete each other, that we may finish the work together.

For the rest of the sermon, see the church website: Life of the Dead

Tags: sermons

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dora Dueck // Jul 1, 2010 at 7:18 am

    What an intriguing thought. I’m mulling over it in reference to my not-so-long-ago deceased father and a dream I had about him and a book I’m reading that suggests we need to be freed from the unfinished dreams of our parents and others who “go before.” I’ll mull some more…. Thanks!

  • 2 isaac // Jul 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Dora, thanks for reading my sermon and for the comment.

    I guess part of it is that we are living in the space created by the dead whether we acknowledge it or not. The question is how to go on with living the life they have created in us. Repressing their influence is probably not the best idea. So we’re left with acknowledging the ways we are living in their wake, while critically engaging their dreams.

    How does that sound?

  • 3 Dora Dueck // Jul 7, 2010 at 8:57 am

    That sounds good.
    Acknowledging that space is key, because it’s there, as you say, whether we want to think about it or not. A church that can be physically planted in or next to a graveyard is a fortunate church indeed. In most urban contexts now, we don’t have that help, that privilege.
    Connected to this necessary acknowledgement, and the necessary engagement, I’m reminded of the Chinese proverb: “It takes a long time to bury your father.”
    Great blog, and one of these days I may ruminate on the topic—jumping from yours—at my own. So many ruminations, so little time!

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