November 4, 2019
I know that my Redeemer lives!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
he lives, my ever-living head!
He lives triumphant from the grave;
he lives eternally to save;
he lives exalted, throned above;
he lives to rule his church in love.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #619, verses 1-2]
The assigned lectionary readings for November 10, 2019, the 22
nd Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
For my birthday last week, a dear friend gave me a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which combines both his original (1855) and "death-bed" (1891-1892) editions. I spent most of Sunday evening buried in the book, sampling the voluminous number of poems, while at the same time trying to choose one for inclusion in today's reflection.
The choice wasn't easy. One can get lost reading Whitman's works. What made this experience all the more fascinating for me was the fact that Whitman had little formal education, dropping out of school when he was only eleven.
The poems I found most intriguing were the ones addressing death. He seemed to have a preoccupation with the subject bordering on obsession. Most of us are familiar with the well-known O Captain! My Captain!, one of four poems written in memory of Whitman's hero, Abraham Lincoln.
But it seems that with each passing year, as Whitman drew closer to his own demise, he increasingly focused on the end of his life. For example, in Queries To My Seventieth Year, he writes:
Approaching, nearing, curious,
Thou dim, uncertain, spectre - bringest thou life or death?
Strength, weakness, blindness, more paralysis and heavier?
Or placid skies and sun? Wilt stir the waters yet?
Or haply cut me short for good? Or leave me here as now,
Dull, parrot-like and old, with crack'd voice harping,
I resonate with this poem because in these past few years I have tended to reflect more profoundly on each birthday and how many more God will grant me to celebrate on this earth. So perhaps Whitman's query is not as abnormal as one would think.
All of us, I believe, are curious about what becomes of us when we die. As mortal human beings, death awaits each and every one of us. But the majority of us are afraid to talk about it, fearing that if we do, it will happen sooner than later.
I may have mentioned previously in this column that each year on my birthday, I read Psalm 90 for my daily devotion. I am always mesmerized by verses 10 & 12:
The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty;
yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
Though Psalm 90 is not included in this cycle of lectionary readings, it is one that is heard toward the end of the liturgical year in years A and B. So it could very well stand alongside this year's other readings, because in all three lectionary years, the November readings focus on the end of life. However, as pessimistic as the readings may seem, there are notes of joy and promise in all of them.
In the Old Testament reading for this 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Job declares boldly and with confidence, "I know that my Redeemer lives."
Paul, in his letter to the faithful at Thessalonica, writes that, "God chose you as the first fruits for salvation."
And Jesus, in the Gospel according to Luke, argues that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of [us] are alive."
As people of faith, we believe that death does not have the final word. There is something beyond this life. Our purpose is more than our years here on earth.
There are lots of things we don't know about life after death and how the resurrection will happen and when it will happen. But we do know that it will happen and who is at the center of the resurrection.
Martin Luther put it this way, "Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books, but in every leaf in springtime."
As we wait on this side of death, we wait with the knowledge that we too are mortal human beings and one day we will encounter our own death.
But we don't wait with sorrow or with a sense of emptiness, but rather with joy, with the assurance and the hope in the power of the resurrection that awaits us who believe in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Tuesday of this week I will be meeting and worshipping with the rostered ministers of the Eastern Conference at Zion Lutheran Church in Youngstown.
Sunday, I will be with the people of God at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in North Canton.
This week and always, may you shout with joy to the Lord, may you lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing. [Psalm 98:4]
+Bishop Abraham Allende