Pastor Bryon’s Reflection
Today, the church commemorates the English poet and priest John Donne (1572-1631). The lectionary readings for today are an echo of last Sunday when Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. I found a rich intersection between today’s readings and the works of John Donne.
The prophet Elisha raises a child from death (2 Kings 4:18-37); the psalmist pleads for deliverance from death (Psalm 143); and in an obvious description of Holy Baptism, Paul points to the good news that though we were once dead through our trespasses, out of great love, God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).
With apology for the seventeenth century non-gender-inclusive language, note how John Donne gave voice to the witness of scripture that death will not have the final say:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which yet thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more, must low
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men
And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell,
And poppy or harms an make us sleep as well
And better than they stroke; why swell’st thou then?
Once short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
This journey of Lent began with ashes placed on our foreheads and the sober reminder that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Like me, perhaps you feel the truth of the sign of ashes in our current global pandemic. The ashes call us to honestly acknowledge the truth about ourselves, but even more, call us to renounce the deathly things to seem to offer life – greed, hatred, spiritual self-righteousness. God undergirds this call with God’s promises that death does not and will not have the final say. Since Christ is risen we live with hope and trust that God is always at work summoning life from ashes.
Physical distancing and the “stay at home orders” are necessary actions in the face of a virus that eats away at life. Yet, in the midst of this necessary sequestering I find myself noticing, not just death, but the stuff of life. Maybe because I cannot be with people except through the virtual world, I have a new appreciation for persons in my life who are living reminders of God’s mercy. This gives me hope and reminds me that pandemics, and not even death itself will separate us from the love of God in and through Christ.
Death be not proud … and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
Thanks be to God!