The Dawn Has Come

This time of year I’m thinking about people in my life who have gone. It makes me grateful for my church. About 13 months ago, an uncle died. My aunt asked me to lead a prayer at the funeral. I had no idea what I would say, so I called the church office. The associate pastor copied a few pages from The Book of Common Worship, and I adapted them to suit him.

I belong to the Presbyterian Church (USA), but if you belong to any church, you have access to resources and traditions that have grown out of hundreds of years of people who sought words of comfort in times of grief and loss. At times like this, which we will all face in this life, a resource like that is truly priceless, and I am so grateful to have that.

One thing I have learned through those traditions is not to focus on the loss of the person but on gratitude that this person was part of my life, and no matter how long or short it was, that time was a gift from God. And in Christ, we have the hope of resurrection, which doesn’t take away the sadness but mitigates it and puts it into perspective.

One Bible verse is sometimes misquoted as “sorrow not” (1Thess 4.13). Paul did not say, “Sorrow not,” as if sorrow means you are lacking in faith. In fact, in the letter to Philippians, Paul tells of Epaphroditus, a friend of his who was sick nearly to death, but God had mercy him, “and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27, ESV). In the 1 Thessalonians verse, Paul says, “…sorrow, not as those who have no hope” (KJV, comma mine). I added a comma to make clearer he is saying, Sorrow, but not without hope.

One year ago today, my grandmother died, and four days later my grandfather followed her into the Church Triumphant, as my pastor would say. He was at a VA nursing home, and I can’t help thinking she was probably there at his bedside saying, “Quit flirting with them nurses and come home!”

The words below are what I spoke at Uncle Calvin’s funeral. I’d like to offer them now for my grandmother and anyone who is mourning someone.

Say not in grief that she is no more but say in thankfulness that she was.
A death is not the extinguishing of a light, but the putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come.

A Prayer For The Dead

God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.

Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.
Let all the people say, Amen.

Gracious God, surround us and all who mourn this day
with your continuing compassion.
Hear our prayers and comfort us;
renew our trust in your Son,
whom you raised from the dead;
strengthen our faith
that
Rosa and all who have died in the love of Christ
will share in his resurrection;
Let all the people say, Amen.

Father in heaven, we praise your name
for all who have finished this life loving and trusting you,
for the example of their lives,
the life and grace you gave them,
and the peace in which they rest.
We praise you today for your servant
Rosa
and for all that you did through
her.
Meet us in our sadness
and fill our hearts with praise and thanksgiving,
through our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us all with the gift of this earthly life.
We thank you now for
Rosa’s life,
for every memory of love and joy,
for every good deed she has done
and every sorrow shared with us.
We thank you for
her life and honor her in death,
we thank you for the rest in Christ s
he now enjoys,
we thank you for giving
her to us,
we thank you for the glory we shall share together.
As we honour
her memory,
make us more aware that you are the one
from whom comes every perfect gift,
including the gift of eternal life.

Hear our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let all the people say, Amen

Living God, you have lit the day with the sun’s light
and the midnight with shining stars.
Lighten our hearts with the bright beams
of the Sun of Righteousness
risen with healing in his wings,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
And so preserve us in the doing of your will,
that at the last we may shine
as the stars for ever;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let all the people say, Amen.

Grace and Peace to you.

Scriptures

Romans 6:3-5

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:3-5 NRS)

 

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1Co 15:51-58 NRS)

John 2:1-11 – The Wedding at Cana

If you remember your wedding day, how would you have felt if your wedding planner came to you during the reception and said, we’ve run out of food and not all the guests have been served? I suppose you would have panicked for a moment and then expected the wedding planner to fix it. Find some food. I don’t care where you get it. Just get it here now. You would not have expected any of the guests to get it for you.

When Jesus and Mary are at a wedding in Cana[1], Mary hears they have run out of wine. She probably felt their embarrassment, especially if they were friends of hers. In Galilee in the first century, “those invited might be expected to contribute provisions such as wine” (HarperCollins Study Bible, John 2.1 note). So it was not necessarily unusual for her to ask her son to contribute some wine.

Interesting fact about Jewish weddings in the first century: Receptions lasted a full week. During this time, the bride and the bridegroom had their honeymoon in their new home. The wedding guests celebrated outside.

Jesus appears unconcerned at first. Woman, what concern is that to you and me?

I know mothers are going to ask, why did he call her “Woman,” instead of Mother or Mom? That probably was not disrespectful in that culture (compare 19:26; 20:15). But the next line he says indicates her request is about more than wine. My hour has not yet come.

And his mother tells the servants, Do whatever he tells you.

That sets the scene for Jesus’ first miracle – or sign as John prefers to call it – turning water into wine.

I imagine at this point, she gave him The Mother’s Look. You know what I’m talking about. Your mother wants you to do something, and she gives you that look that tells you there is no arguing with her about this. She knows something about her son, something he does not want to reveal – at least, not yet. He does not think it’s the right time to show his miracle working power. His hour has not yet come. But he does it anyway. Really Mom? You think this should be my first miracle?

…there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.

So the servants need to get wine fast. They are waiting for Jesus to tell them what to do. He sees six large stone water jars, and as a Jew, he would know these are used to hold water for purification rites. He says to fill them with water. What were the servants thinking? How is purifying ourselves going to help us get wine?

But Mary is there, and maybe she reminds them, “I said, do whatever he tells you!”

They follow his directions, filling the jars to the brim. They draw some out. At what point did the water change to wine? When it was in the jars or when they drew some out (in a pitcher I imagine)? When the chief steward tasted it? Who knows. And I have to wonder, as important as washing for purification rituals was for Jews, how could these jars have been empty?

At any rate, this water that would normally be used to wash people and objects for ritual purification has turned into wine, and the social crisis is solved. With the capacity of each jar, they would have had 120-180 gallons of wine, presumably enough to last the entire reception.

It’s a strange story, so I feel more compelled than usual to ask,

What can we learn from this?

The purification vessels are empty then filled with water, which allows them to fulfill their original purpose. Jesus repurposes them when he turns the water into wine. One commentator says,

The pots contain only water. Soon Jesus will fill them with eschatological[2] wine, a rich symbol in the biblical tradition inferring prosperity, abundance, good times; the wine will overflow the water pots. Their true purpose will be fulfilled. Changing the pots of water into pots flowing over with good wine becomes a metaphor for Jesus’ ministry as he brings vitality to the ancient religion.[3]

 You can be spiritual and still join others in celebration. Two of the fruits of the spirit are love and joy. One way to show love is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. A wedding feast is a time for rejoicing with those who rejoice, and any religion should make room for joy when it is appropriate.

 It is okay to pray for “unimportant” things. I hear people all the time say, “Don’t pray for that. God has more important things to do.” Did Jesus have more important things to do than keep the party going? Yes, and he would go on to do them. But for now, he is there, and they need wine. Someone asks for his help, and he answers.

Any religion should make room for “Cana Grace.”
Cana Grace? This is a new term for me, but one commentator explains it this way.

…it is worth a miracle because it manifests the glory of God—the very God who wants even now for the community of faith to be a celebration of people. Brothers and sisters in Christ eating on the back porch and laughing until the sun goes down; a new members’ dinner at someone’s home that ends with folks giving thanks to God for the welcome they have received at church—it is called Cana Grace. Give thanks for everyone in your church and in your life who has the knack for throwing a party. What a way to begin a ministry![4]

Addendum

Did you know the joy of the kingdom of God/Heaven is often compared to a wedding or wedding feast? Just a few examples:

  • Isa 62.1-5
  • Hos 2.16, 19-20
  • Mat 22.1-14; 25.1-13
  • Rev 19.7-9; 21.2-4

References

[1] Cana was a small town in the middle of Galilee, about 10 miles north of Nazareth.

[2] Eschatological or eschatology relates to the end times. God’s future action to end this world and inaugurate a new one is a common theme in the Bible. What will this new world be like? That is what eschatology is concerned with.

[3] Bridges, Linda McKinnish. Exegetical perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.

[4] Brearly, Robert M. Pastoral perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.

Belated New Year’s Resolutions and Lamentations 3:22-23

David Anderson

{Originally posted Jan. 15, 2016}

Did you make New Year’s resolutions? Are you still keeping them? I haven’t officially made my resolutions yet. I wonder if there might be a better term for it, like maybe goals for the New Year. But for now I won’t worry about that.

Ideally, I would have planned my resolutions in December so on January 1, I wouldn’t be saying, “Uh, let’s see, my resolution? Uh, I think I want to…” and then saying something off the top of my head that would just be wishful thinking that maybe I’d do for a week or two and then fall back into same-old-same-old.

I would have liked to start strategizing how to make my resolution happen this year, so on January 1 I could hit the ground running. But it didn’t work out that way. I got very busy with Christmas shopping, socializing, visiting family, and volunteering that I’m happy I did but left me with little time and energy for setting goals and strategizing. But I haven’t given up on the idea. I’ve decided I’m going to take the entire month to set goals for what I want to do. Here are some that come to mind:

  • Get on top of my finances
  • Learn to meditate and make it a habit
  • Get my novel published
  • Get my master’s thesis in the Duke library database
  • Make my lifestyle earth-friendly
  • Pay off debts
  • Make my biblical knowledge widely available

Some of these have been resolutions for years, but I had no idea how to make them happen. So I’m taking this time to prioritize these and create a plan for them. I don’t know if I’ll get all of them done, but I’ll accomplish some of the goals that are most important to me.

Now, maybe this sounds like a cop-out. New Year’s Day has past. I had good intentions but didn’t follow through, so I have to wait until next year. But who says New Year’s Day is the only time you can be optimistic? Who says you can only make resolutions – or goals if you prefer – on one day of the year?

What I love about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is it’s a time of new beginnings, a time when the year ahead is a blank canvas. You can forget any regrets from the previous year. But with God, new beginnings are possible any day.

His mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23)

Every time you wake up is a new day, and every new day is a blank canvas. Every new day is another chance to live the life you want or at least in some way get closer to it. So instead of having only one day of new beginnings, I’d like to see if I can welcome every day as a new beginning. Instead of one New Year’s Day, I’d like to have a year of New Days.

You know what? I think that will be my resolution.

 

Go deeper – Bible verses about new beginnings

 

Isaiah 40:30-31 – Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right1 spirit within me.

1John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Jeremiah 29:11 – For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Psalm 108:1b-2 – Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.

Isaiah 43:18-19 – Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Zephaniah 3:5 – The LORD within it is righteous; he does no wrong. Every morning he renders his judgment, each dawn without fail.

Revelation 21:5 – And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”