I know where I will be buried

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I know exactly where my body will be lowered into the ground when I die.


Wednesday 2012, Year C

Psalm 51;
Isaiah 58.1-12

Renee Splichal Larson


Grace and
peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I know
exactly where my body will be lowered into the ground when I die.  The piece of earth that will be my final
resting place is in Phelps’s Cemetery in Decorah, IA.  It is on a hill with plenty of beautiful and
mature trees.  A maple tree that has a
scar from a lightening strike gives shade to the granite bench that will be at
my feet.  Next to me on my left where I
will lie in the earth, my first husband Ben, is already buried.  The spot on my right is reserved for my
husband, Jonathan. 

I have been
there at sunrise and sunset; in the heat of a July day and in the bitter cold
of January 12th. Fireflies dance in the night around my patch of
earth. Deer eat the delicious flowers I bring to beautify the place of sorrow.  Squirrels chase each other through the trees
and the wind rustles the leaves of the trees, creating a shimmering sound of
peace.  There is so much life and beauty
where I will be buried.  I have sat on
the bench beneath the Maple tree at Ben’s feet and stared at my piece of earth
that will be opened to embrace me some day.   

I think
about death nearly all the time because of the sting of its finality in this
world.  This may sound a little morbid,
but it’s really not because it makes me think about God and appreciate life in
all its fullness. 

Wednesday is a very appropriate day to think about life and death.  It is not meant as a day to beat yourself up
because of all your sinfulness, nor is it a day to simply get depressed
thinking about death.  It’s really a day
to come to terms with your own mortality, to think about life in all its
fullness, and to receive and recognize the mercy and compassion of the living
God who has created you and loves you.

In many
Christian traditions, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the practice of
“giving something up,” or adding something to one’s life.  A common conversation starter for people
around this time of year is, “So what are you giving up this year for Lent?” 

In theory,
the practice is meant to be a sacrifice and draw one closer to God.  Many people I know give up things like candy,
deserts, coffee, watching TV, and even facebook.  Some even say they’re going to exercise more,
using Lent like a new year’s resolution. 

Many people
fast today, which means not eating any food. 
Many people go to worship, read aloud Psalm 51 like we have just done,
and then come to the altar heads bowed down to receive a cross of ashes on
their forehead.  These things are very
humbling and a good to do on Ash Wednesday.

But the red
flag of caution needs to be raised here and the questions of “Why am I giving
something up for Lent…or…Why am I in worship this day reciting Psalm 51 and
receiving ashes on my forehead?  It can
just become something we do with no meaning behind it.

In our reading
in Isaiah the people fast, humble themselves, go to worship, and ask God for
righteous judgments.  Good things to do,
right?  The people cry out to God, “Look,
God!  We’re fasting, but why don’t you
see us?  We are humbling ourselves, but
you aren’t noticing?  The people think
they are doing things that will bring them closer to God.  They think they are doing the things God
wants them to do.

So God
answers them: “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress
all your workers.  You fast only to
quarrel and to fight.”  God really sees
what’s going on.  What God is saying is
that it doesn’t matter how much you fast or go to worship if when you leave you
quarrel and fight with those around you, or ignore the needs of others.  The people are doing all these religious
practices, but only for their own selfish interest and gain.  Their practices have nothing to do with
caring for those around them or recognizing the needs of others.

God clearly
says what God desires of us and what life in all its fullness looks like.  “Is this not the fast that I choose,” God
says, “to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to
break every yoke?…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the
homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them?”  Essentially what God is saying is, “I don’t
care about your fasting or what you give up if it doesn’t lead to act with love
towards those around you.”

What I rarely,
if ever, hear people say is: “This year for Lent I’m giving up my Starbucks
Latte I have every day so I can take the money I will save and give it to the
church, or to Ruth Meiers, or the Welcome House.”


“I’m giving
up facebook this Lent so that I have hours of free time in which I am going to
spend the time in prayer, volunteering, or lobbying at the legislature for
bills that will support those living on the margins of society.”


This one I
actually do here people say more: “I’m going to worship God in order that peace
can be in my soul, and I can bring that peace to my home or cottage, and my

God says,
“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the
speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of
the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be
like the noonday.”

It is so
clear from our reading tonight what God asks of us.  This is not meant to be a burden; God knows
it will give us life with meaning and purpose, life in all its fullness.  You will be a light in someone’s darkness,
water for a parched soul, a healing balm for a deep wound.  It is in serving one another in which the
incredible mercy and grace of God is manifested in our hearts.

Archie Smith Jr. writes:

The focus on
the whole season [of Lent] and of today’s liturgy [worship] in particular is on
taking stock of our lives…lamenting, confessing, and repenting.  When it is true to its purpose, Lent will
move us closer to being the suffering and resurrected body of Christ in the
world.  We will find hope in being
faithful and strength in being honest.  We
will be made wiser by our discernment and confession, poised to struggle for
wider justice, and enabled to dig deeper wells for the expression of
compassion.  ‘Then,’ the prophet says,
‘your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up

– (p. 6 Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2)

The cross
of ashes you will receive tonight while hearing the words: “Remember that you
are dust and to dust you shall return,” is an invitation to think about your
mortality and how you are loving God by loving those around you through your
life on this earth.  It is also an invitation
for you to trust God both with your life and with your death.

As your
pastor, I have thought about every single one of you and your death because you
are in my care.  The only way I have the strength to draw the cross of ashes
on your forehead is because I trust God with your life and because it is the
same mark you have been given in your baptism. 
God has a claim on you.

I cannot
make the cross on your forehead without also thinking about the day God will
raise you up from your grave and give you new life in the resurrection of the
dead.  Lest we forget, the cross leads to
the empty tomb.  Lent leads to Easter

As I sit on
the bench beneath the maple tree and stare at my future grave, yes I think
about death, but these thoughts are always accompanied by the vision of God
tearing open the ground where I will lay and lifting up my body and breathing
the breath of the Holy Spirit into my lungs once again.  I rejoice that God will do the same for you.

Tonight I’d
like to conclude the sermon by some lyrics from the song, “Awake my soul,” by
Mumford and Sons:

these bodies we will live,

these bodies we will die

you invest your love,

invest your life…

 For you were made to meet your maker…