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Rev. Mike Rayson, a United Methodist pastor here in Illinois is giving this homily today at Westminster Abbey in London as a guest preacher. He has agreed to share his message here as part of my guest blog series on Resurrection and New Life! (Thanks Mike!) You can find out more about Mike, his wife, and their ministry by clicking here: http://stpaulumcbrighton.blogspot.com/
A Good Friday Homily by Rev. Mike Rayson
Grace and peace from the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, our Bishop Gregory Palmer, and from the good people of St Paul’s congregation in Brighton Illinois, where I am currently appointed to serve together with my wife, the Reverend Amy Rayson, and our children Laura and Oliver.
Since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it has become for us the bearer of good news and of bad. Serving a vibrant and growing congregation means that the phone in my home rings several times each day. A church member who wants a friendly chat… A troubled soul seeking guidance… A local needing assistance with food… and sometimes news of illness, hospital admission, and even death.
It was the ringing of a phone one Monday morning in May 2007 that brought such news to my family. I’m sorry… your son, 11 year old Samuel, has been tragically killed. It was the beginning of a lifelong journey of pain for me, a truly Psalm 23 experience of moving through the valley of the shadow of death.
They say a clergyperson shouldn’t officiate at the funeral of a family member… but for me, as Sam’s dad, I knew I must. He was my son, and as I had served him in his life, so to I would serve him in his death.
The most harrowing and traumatic moment of my whole life happened that day. Not when I gave the eulogy… led the gathered faithful in prayer… or read from Matthew’s gospel of the one sheep who wandered away… but when I, as pastor and as daddy placed my hands upon the body of my child and recited the words…
Almighty God, into your hands we commend your son, my son, Samuel Thomas William Rayson. Born March 28th 1996 in Port Lincoln South Australia, died May 14th 2007 in Geneseo, Illinois. This body we commit to the flames. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Nothing ever prepares a parent to bear the death of their child. We use the word widow for one who loses a partner… orphan for those who have lost their parents… yet our English language does not provide a word for a parent who must live and grieve for their child.
Nothing could have prepared Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for this. No broad shouldered support she received from the disciple John at the foot of the cross could have made the events of that terrible day in Jerusalem any easier to bear, as she watched her son put to death at the hands of a blind regime who wanted to hold fast to their religious power and authority.
In the heat of the afternoon on a hill of shame, a mother watched. Whilst the world cursed and crucified the babe she had nursed at her breast, a mother grieved. As the boy who had played at the feet of his mom was tortured and terrorized, scorned and shamed, despised and denied – the light that shone in a mothers proud eyes was extinguished, leaving in its place a wounded and suffering woman.
In the death of Christ, God Almighty embraced everything Mary experienced – the worst that we could ever experience; throwing his arms around our lost-ness, our shame, our sin, our alienation, and our pain… all the while whispering a simple word…
For this son of man, sent by God, truly God, came to seek and to save the lost, to embrace the darkness with the light of life… to redeem the tears of a woman whose heart had shattered at the vision of her son’s death. ‘No’ cried God – this was not how it was meant to be for her, or for us.
In the words of theologian Dr. C Baxter Kruger, “there on the cross, he penetrated the last stronghold of darkness. There he walked into the utter depths of our alienation. There the intolerable No!, shouted by God the Father at the Fall of Adam, found its true fulfillment in Jesus’ Yes! “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit,” as he took his final step into Adam’s disaster. Jesus died–and the Fall of Adam died with him”.
As a Dad, grieving for a little boy, my tears have truly fallen… leaning on the arms of her son’s beloved disciple, the tears of Mary, the mother of God must have fallen… and I know your tears too have fallen in the presence of death as you have encountered it.
For it is the thief says Jesus, who comes only to steal and kill and destroy;yet it is in the cross, underscored by what C.S Lewis’ referred to as ‘the deeper magic’, that Jesus has gathered back the tears the thief has stolen from us, and proclaimed that we are made for something beyond than the cold hands of death. Something more than mere extinction or annihilation. Something above the hands of time. We are made for life and life more abundantly.
And so it is we wait… silently, painfully, expectantly… for that Sunday bloom of sheer grace and liberating life to rain again upon our broken and weary souls. For as sure as the sun will rise on the dawn of tomorrow and as certain as the daffodils bloom each February and March, so death will NOT have the last word.
Not for Mary, not for me, and most assuredly not for anyone who trusts in the one who died for us all.