"Memory Wall" by Marjory Bankson
March 1, 2009, the first Sunday in Lent
Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near."
Today is the first Sunday of Lent – the forty-day period (excluding Sundays) before Easter. As Paul Krumrine told the children last week, Lent recalls the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry. It’s a time of testing and trial, of examination and preparation. Traditionally, Lent has been a specific period in which to fast and pray-or to give up something you love-like chocolate, or meat, or wine.
Joan Chittester, the outspoken Benedictine nun, suggests that Lent can be a time to ADD something that will grow your soul-like centering prayer, or making a daily gratitude list, or giving of yourself in a new way. Some churches experiment with small group membership during Lent as a way of encouraging intentional community. Here at Seekers, you might try a mission group, or experiment with a giving discipline, or do a silent retreat for the first time. Lent could also be a time to enter into a place of grief that you have avoided, or it might be a time to close a book that has lain open for too long. That is the value of a ritual period, a Lenten practice. It can give us a specific focus and a clear time period to test deeper waters.
I didn’t grow up with any Lenten disciplines. Indeed, we were fairly suspicious of the smudgy foreheads of our Catholic or Lutheran neighbors on Ash Wednesday, and we didn’t do anything to mark Maundy Thursday or the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. When I was growing up, all the emphasis went to Easter Sunday and getting a new dress for the occasion.
But I have come to value the yearly turn of liturgical seasons and lectionary readings at Seekers – which take us from Advent to Epiphany, then Lent, Eastertide, and the long season of Pentecost to explore the work of the Holy Spirit in community. The yearly cycle invites us to see our lives in a bigger context, the longer story of God’s ongoing creation and Jesus’ way of being in which each of us has a particular piece that is ours to live and learn from.
Lent holds the arc of Jesus’ life and ministry which began with his baptism-recognized as a ritual of death to his old life and birth to his ministry of proclaiming the realm of God here and now, welcoming ALL to God’s table.
Radical love and fear of death flow fast through the Gospels, giving us a glimpse of how Jesus kept pushing the good news of God’s inclusive love beyond biological family to include others who were outcast, rejected and alone. Lent can help us understand what Jesus meant when he said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near."
In every generation since Jesus walked the earth, churches have struggled to hold onto that truth: "the kingdom of God has come near." What was it that made Jesus’ life and death so significant? How did he show us the realm of God? In what sense did he show us how to overcome our natural fear of death and oblivion?
Henri Nouwen gave me an insight in his little book, A Letter of Consolation. "Love," Nouwen says, "always reaches for the eternal. Love comes from a place of no death. It is not imprisoned by time." And when we love someone deeply, we are captivated by the power of love. We imagine that love will deny death and protect those we love so much.
Death puts a mortal limit on love-demands that we release our brief hold on eternity. When death comes (as it does for all mortals, including Jesus), we are stunned. We feel powerless. Naked. Even ashamed. Even Jesus begged to be spared his ignominious death. If we can embrace Love and release it, Nouwen says, we can discover the intense beauty of life without clinging to it.
Individually, we may not be able to hold the tension between love’s eternal source and our fear of death. But a beloved community, with all of our differences in age and experience, can help with our practices of ritual and remembrance. Together we can learn, as the disciples did, to let our empty hearts be filled again with love and in that sense, love does triumph over death.
Love and death and love again lie at the heart of every Lenten journey. It is the "good news" at the core of every beloved community where people are drawn to be the body of Christ. We carry the remembrance of Jesus’ death when we come to the communion table, as we will later in this service. But we are also committed to remembering those we loved in this community.
Today, we will be dedicating the Seekers Memory Wall. Just as we remember the life of Jesus, we want to remember other members of "our body" in this ritual way. The Living Water Mission Group has been carrying this intention for several years. Emily Gilbert first raised the possibility of having some place where we could honor a family member of Seekers, since her husband, Carl Benson, had given his body to the Howard University Medical School. Emily is not here today because she has had a small stroke and is in the hospital, but her family is here for the dedication.
The mission group was also touched by the photograph of two geese which Keith Seat took after the ashes of their daughter, Erica, were placed in Lake of the Saints at Dayspring. That picture hangs upstairs, in the library. I want to thank Brenda for her children’s word this morning – for sharing the story of that photo – because our children deserve to know that love and sadness can go together-that we are capable of bearing both in community.
Living Water was also encouraged by the memorial for Linda Strand out at Dayspring, and we wanted something here in this building that could grow over time. We do not want to make this building a mausoleum or focus too much on the past, but we do want to include those who have taught us the stern lessons of love in our gathered community here in this place.
Eventually, we settled on the back staircase as the right location-because it is both accessible and seldom used by those who rent our building. We wanted something that would pick up the thread of our mosaic logo on the front of the building-that could be handmade and homemade without looking like a craft project or a kitchen remodel. We didn’t want a brass plaque on every window, nor did we want to solicit "contributions" to honor our loved ones. We wanted something that would be simple, beautiful and affordable. The beautiful tiles that we have chosen come from Turkey, site of the earliest Pauline communities. The etched glass tiles are frosted, which give them a sense of mystery and watery depth. They will be placed randomly among tumbled natural marble tiles that suggest the earth we share. We have purchased enough tiles to complete the entire back stairwell over time.
Anyone who has been part of this community may request a tile for immediate family members. Today we will be dedicating tiles for Carl Benson, Jenny Dodge, Alan Dragoo, Manning Dyer, Eddie Lipp, Erica Seat, Linda Strand, and Hollis Vail.
In addition, we are inviting all of you-the living members of Seekers-to create your own page in the Seekers Memory Book. The beginning sample (hold up book) will be displayed in the Skylight Room after worship. For every tile on the wall, there should be a page in the book-so we can identify those people at a later date. We will keep the Memory Book in the stairwell, near the Memory Wall.
It’s pure synchronicity that yesterday, Sonya Dyer (Seekers founding mother), celebrated her 80th birthday in Charlotte, North Carolina. After Manning died a year ago, Sonya purchased one of my unfired clay burial urns for Manning’s ashes and she completed a page for Manning in the Memory Book. He was one of the original "Stewards" when Seekers formed in 1976 and she wanted him to be remembered here. Their three children, Larry, Nancy and Barbara, came to Charlotte in order to celebrate Sonya’s birthday and, as part of that, they buried Manning’s urn in the ground where he would return to the earth in a natural way: Ashes to ashes and dust to dust as we say in our Ash Wednesday liturgy.
What we are going to do now is a brief ritual designed by Emmy Lu Daly, who is the worship leader for our mission group. As each name is called, a member of the mission group will come forward to light a votive candle and then, as she leaves, family members of that person are invited to stand and follow the candle-bearer down the back hall. Then, in silence, we are all invited to move into the back hall for the dedication which Emmy Lu will be leading.
After the ritual, we will return to this space by moving through the kitchen so that everybody can see the wall through the open door at the top of the back stairs, and carry the experience back here, where our worship service will continue.
As we prepare to follow the light borne by a mission group member out of the sanctuary, let us pray. May the Lord bless us and keep us as we endeavor to be Your people in this time and place. Amen.
A Christian Community
In the Tradition of Church of the Saviour
Dedication of the Seekers’ Memory Wall
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Emmy Lu: We come today to dedicate the Seekers’ Memory Wall with the first eight tiles etched with the names of the beloved of this community. We do so with loving tenderness and with the assurance that all of them-the very young, the not so young and the old-are resting in God’s eternal Light. The wall is a visual reminder of their time with us-now and forever.
Let us join in a responsive Litany of Remembrance. After the bell rings, please join in saying "We remember (and the name of the person.)"
Emily: We remember Carl Benson
in the rising of the sun and in its going down.
All: We remember Carl.
Muriel: We remember Eddie Lipp
in the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter.
All: We remember Eddie.
Sue: We remember Alan Dragoo
in the opening of the buds
and the rebirth of spring.
All: We remember Alan.
Nancy: We remember Linda Strand
in the blueness of the sky
and the warmth of summer.
All: We remember Linda.
Marjory: We remember Hollis Vail
in the rustling of the leaves
and the beauty of autumn.
All: We remember Hollis.
Cynthia: We remember Erica Seat
in the beginning of the year and when it ends.
All: We remember Erica.
Emmy Lu: We remember Jenny Dodge
in the laughter of a child.
All: We remember Jenny.
Emily: We remember Manning Dyer
when we feel his spirit in the mountains.
All: We remember Manning.
(Bell rings 8 times.)
Emmy Lu: Loving God, we ask you to consecrate this wall
as we pray for all those whom we love and see no longer.
And we rest in the knowledge that your son, Jesus Christ,
has prepared a place for them in the company of saints.