Come, Sweet Death!
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany
29 July 2019
Some years ago an archaeological exhibit of artifacts from the Roman city of Pompeii came to Houston. Pompeii was buried in 79 A.D. by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Thousands perished buried in volcanic ash, only to be disinterred by archaeologists who began to dig up the site in the eighteenth century. In the exhibit there was a record of human remains in a cellar where the deceased had rushed to grab a hoard of gold coins as he attempted to escape the noxious fumes and accumulating ash. He died clutching these riches. We don't know if the man in the cellar was the owner of the stash or a thief taking advantage of a chaotic situation, but the outcome was the same. The man who returned to the hoard of gold paid with his life. The pumice encased body and the hoarded gold are now artifacts of greed and nothing more.
When the crisis comes, what will we run back to recover? Where will our hearts be set? Will we retreat to the sick bed of a neighbor, seeking to ease his or her suffering? Or will we rush back to the bank to recover the artifacts of greed from our safety deposit box? We think we know how we will act when called on to put our life on the line. But it is only in the moment that that will become clear to us. Would we risk life itself for the need of the other? We will only know for certain when we have offered our self for the other. For now we can pray for strength to face our mortality. For now we can practice the habits of the faith that lead toward service. For now we can be formed for mortality: cross-shaped.
But in the crisis there is clarity. When Christians suffered death in the arena, after lifting up their voices to the One who promised to rescue them from death, those who howled for them to be ripped limb from limb were shamed by their piety, humility, and confidence in Christ. Those who watched such things and cheered for the blood to be spilled began to wonder why people would suffer such horrible pain and death. What would support such heroism in teen-agers and matrons? How baffling to a world that fled pain and sought pleasure, like Pavlovian slobberers! The worldly-minded could not imagine that young girls could face the ravening lions of the arena with prayer and a supreme confidence. How could they do that? They knew that their end was a beginning with Christ. They knew that death was life. They knew mortality was the gateway of immortality. They knew that what had been trained for in baptism, was now to be experienced in mortality.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Cyprian of Carthage
"What a great thing it is, how pertinent, how necessary, that pestilence and plague which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the righteousness of each one, and examines the minds of the human race, to see whether they who are in health tend the sick; whether relations affectionately love their kindred; whether masters pity their languishing servants; whether physicians do not forsake the beseeching patients; whether the fierce suppress their violence; whether the rapacious can quench the ever insatiable ardor of their raging avarice even by the fear of death; whether the haughty bend their neck; whether the wicked soften their boldness; whether, when their dear ones perish, the rich, even then bestow anything, and give, when they are to die without heirs. Even although this mortality conferred nothing else, it has done this benefit to Christians and to God's servants that we begin gladly to desire martyrdom as we learn not to fear death. These are trainings for us, not deaths. They give the mind the glory of fortitude. By contempt of death they prepare for the crown."

Cyprian, On Mortality, 16
Matthew 6:19-24

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (ESV)
Lord Jesus, prepare me to die by living in my baptism, so that when I am called to serve you by dying, I would be ready to face my mortality, focusing on my life forever with You. Amen.
For all those who are suffering from depression, that they would be encouraged by friends and family, and find their full strength in Christ
For the family of David Porter, whom the Lord Jesus took to Himself, that they would grieve with confidence in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For Kirstyn Harvey, who will be undergoing surgery this week, that the Lord Jesus would be with her and bring her healing
For graduates of schools everywhere, that graduation would not be an end to learning, but a sign post of lifelong learning
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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