To the Church in Exile,
The peace of Christ be with you. Our daily lectionary reading is from Genesis 49:29, 50:1-3:
Then Jacob charged his sons, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors – in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite…. When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
Then Joseph threw himself on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. Joseph commanded the physicians in his service to embalm his father. So, the physicians embalmed Israel; they spent forty days in doing this, for that is the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
If this reading hadn’t been one of the four lectionary passages for today, I never would have chosen it for this time in Seattle. But now that it’s before my eyes, I think it’s incredibly timely. It is a funeral scene.
When I was teaching the doctrine of the resurrection in a basic theology course at SPU this winter, I talked to my students about church funerals and how, as a pastor, I find them to be so rich. I told them, “they’re meaningful because no one is messing around. There is no game playing. We are avoiding the subject of death no longer. The ritual makes us stop and mark the moment; we face death, our mortality.”
Notice the elaborate marking of death by the Egyptians: 40 days of embalming, ritual weeping for 70 days. The Egyptians seem obsessed with death. That observation, however, would be false. They knew how to live. In fact, in our current North American efforts to avoid the subject of death I believe we miss life.
Eugene Peterson in his book on David, Leap Over a Wall, comments, “If we don’t give our full attention to death, but spend our lives avoiding the subject and obscuring it with euphemisms, we diminish our lives. Denial of death is avoidance of life.” … “It seems odd, even contradictory, that in order to live totally, we must face death totally.”
I heard a physician on NPR yesterday say we are 10 days behind Italy in our current battle with Covid-19. That’s sobering. People, America’s culture of death-denial is over. These are dark days ahead. Yet, I can already imagine, even now see the seeds, of real living, where we pay attention to authentic communion, intimacy, love and joy.
We started this Lent by marking our foreheads with ashes and the words, “From dust you came; to dust you shall return.” I believe as we are marked with ashes in these weeks, we will emerge more alive than ever, and will indeed taste and see that the Lord is good.
Lord God, you have brought us in safety to this new day. Preserve us with your mighty power that we may not fall into sin nor be overcome in adversity, and in all we do direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
Peace in Christ,
Doug Kelly, Senior Pastor
Bethany Presbyterian Church
(206) 284-2222, x11