Sunday, April 27, 2014

Through Locked Doors

John 20:19-31
April 27, 2014

            I was co-leading a Lenten Bible study at a church I served for a while in Iowa.  Over the course of that day’s lesson, the conversation turned to the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” It was in the theaters at that time, and it was making waves across the country.  One woman who was in our group that morning had just seen the movie.  She loved it.  As she was describing it to us in great detail, she ended with the comment, “Well, now we know what really happened.” 
            I responded in my politest voice, “Actually, we only know what Mel Gibson believes to have happened.  He based it on Biblical accounts, true, but it’s still his interpretation of those accounts.” 
            I knew by the look she gave me that she wasn’t thrilled with me for saying that.  She wasn’t thrilled with me in general, and I had no doubt that wasn’t a church with which I felt called to engage in a long-ministry.  But I wouldn’t back down then, and I still stand by my response to her.  Whatever the merits of that movie might have been, it was one person’s interpretation of events brought to life in film.  But many of the people who watched this movie held it up as proof positive that everything we as Christians believe is absolutely, incontestably, indisputably true.  It was proof. 
            I’m seeing these same kinds of claims in response to the movie that is in theaters now, “Heaven Is for Real.”  I have not seen the movie, but I do know the story.  I’m certainly not going to cast aspersions at what was obviously a powerful experience for a little boy and his family.  There is a lot in what is described about heaven from this little boy’s near death experience that gives you pause.  But I won’t hold it up as proof any more than I would claim that Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in “The Ten Commandments,” is spot on accurate.  In my humble opinion, none of this is proof.  But I get it.  I understand that when it comes to faith, we search for proof.  I understand that need, that desire well.  I certainly feel it.  I think most of us would like incontrovertible proof.  It seems to me that it is human nature to seek it out.  If this morning’s passage from John’s gospel proves anything, it is that we are not alone in wanting proof that what we believe is true. 
            The discipleS, notice my emphasis on the plural, wanted proof as well.  Mary Magdalene not only testified to the disciples that the tomb where Jesus was laid was empty; she encountered the risen Lord and shared that good news with them as well.  Peter and the beloved disciple both ran to see for themselves if Mary’s story about the tomb being empty was true.  They both saw the linen wrappings that shrouded Jesus.  They saw.  Yet where were the disciples when evening came?  They were in a house behind locked doors, fearing the Jews, the religious authorities and powers that put Jesus to death in the first place.
            It makes sense that they feared those authorities.  If they were willing to put Jesus to death, why not his intimate group of followers as well?  One commentator made the case that the disciples might also have feared the risen Jesus.  If he was in fact resurrected, as outlandish and impossible as that might be, then he might not be too happy with them.  After all, they didn’t make such a good showing at the end did they?  They betrayed Jesus.  They denied Jesus.  They ran away in fear.  No matter how often Jesus told them about his death and resurrection in the time leading up to the crucifixion, they couldn’t grasp what Jesus was actually telling them.  Even in John’s gospel, they still didn’t get it.  So there the disciples were huddling in fear behind locked doors.  But those locked doors could not keep Jesus out.  He came to them, through their locked doors, but not to punish or condemn.  Instead he greeted them with peace.  “Peace be with you.”  And he breathed on them the Holy Spirit.  This is John’s Pentecost.  Jesus breathed the power of the Holy Spirit on them, just as the breath of God breathed creation into existence.  This physical encounter with the risen Lord, this gift of the Holy Spirit, convinced the disciples that Jesus was indeed resurrected.  All of the disciples had their proof. 
All except Thomas.  For whatever reason, Thomas was not cowering behind locked doors with the others.  Thomas wasn’t there, so he missed this moment with Jesus. Just like Mary told the disciples, they told Thomas, “He’s risen!  We’ve seen him!  He was right here in our midst.  We have seen the Lord.”  But Thomas didn’t accept that.  His response?  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 
Here is where the misunderstanding about Thomas begins.  I know I’ve said this in past sermons, but Thomas was no different than the other disciples.  As one biblical scholar noted, Thomas was only different in that he put into words the conditions for faith.  The others had to see the risen Jesus as well before they would truly believe, but Thomas said it out loud. 
A week later Jesus gave Thomas the proof he wanted.  Closed doors did not keep Jesus away.  He appeared in their midst, again bringing them peace.  Jesus showed Thomas his hands.  He told him to reach out his finger and touch.  “Do not doubt but believe.”  Thomas then said what is considered to be an extraordinary confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”  While it seems to our ears that Jesus rebuked him for this, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  I don’t hear as rebuke.  I hear this as Jesus speaking beyond just those present in that room.  In that moment Jesus spoke through the centuries yet to come, opening the door for all people to believe.  The generations yet to come, including us, would not be disadvantaged in our faith because we did not see Jesus resurrected. 
The challenge in this is that we have not seen Jesus resurrected.  We don’t have proof.  This is not to deny the witness of scripture.  But where is the evidence that will satisfy our senses?  Where is the proof that we can touch, see, hear, smell, taste? 
Here is the problem with seeking, needing proof.  I no longer believe that it actually helps our faith.  A dear, sweet friend made the mistake of asking me the other night how I was doing on my sermon.  Then he had the misfortune to have to listen to me talk through it out loud.  As I did just that, I came to this point.  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  The opposite of faith is certainty.  I know that sounds strange, but faith and certainty are not the same thing.  Faith is the willingness to trust in something beyond our senses.  We can’t prove it, not empirically.  That’s what makes it faith.  Certainty, on the other hand, is more about our need to be right than it is to be faithful.  Certainty locks the doors of our minds, our hearts.  Certainty keeps us from seeing Christ in one another.  Certainty takes faith and uses it as a weapon against those who believe differently.  Certainty locks the door to the Holy Spirit.  Certainty, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. 
            The last verse in this passage states the purpose of the gospel.  Jesus did many more signs than could be written down.  But the ones that were are given to us, all of us, so that we may believe.  But is that proof?  Does just reading about these signs and wonders, these miracles especially the miracle of resurrection, give us evidence that God is real, that Jesus is Love Incarnate, and that the power of the Holy Spirit will blow where it will?  Faith in John’s gospel is not about proof.  It is more than just verbal assent.  Faith is active.  It is lived.  It is something that we do even when we doubt
            In one of his many sermons, William Sloane Coffin stated it this way,
            “Miracles do not a messiah make.  But a messiah can do miracles.  If you ask me if Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead, literally walked on water and changed water into wine, I understood, and the more it is lived, the more things become possible.’  I can also report that in home after home I have seen Jesus change beer into furniture, sinners into saints, hate-filled relations into loving ones, cowardice into courage, the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope  In instance after instance, life after life, I have seen Christ be ‘God’s power unto salvation,’ and that’s miracle enough for me.”
            We are called not to certainty, but to faith.  And “faith,” as Coffin also said, “is not believing without proof but trusting without reservation.” 
            Let us trust without reservation that Jesus is raised, love not death wins, and the power of the Holy Spirit is let loose in the world.  Let us live out our faith, not because we are certain but because in spite of our doubts we know that there are no locked doors that can keep out the peace, joy, and love of Christ.  Peace be with you.  Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!”  Amen.

Credo, Coffin, William Sloane, ©2004,  Westminster John Knox Press

Sunday, April 20, 2014

That's the Message

Matthew 28:1-10
April 20, 2014/Easter Sunday

            Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!
Another pastor in another sermon wrote that we have a much easier time preaching Good Friday than we do Easter Sunday.  That seems wrong or at least counter-intuitive, but I understood her meaning.  Although I don’t like to admit it, I have to agree with her.  In many ways it is easier to preach Good Friday.  While we may not like death or seek it out, death is something we expect.  Death is something we count on.  But resurrection?  That is a different story.  It’s not just that we can’t ever begin to comprehend or explain what have happened in that tomb; it’s that resurrection and new life seem far away from the world we generally live in.  So though my colleagues and I might claim otherwise, it is easier preaching Good Friday than it is today. 
Good Friday – a day of betrayal, denial, cruelty.  Love Himself was put on trial, and ignorance and fear served as the jurors.  Injustice occupied the judgment seat.  It is no wonder that darkness descended for three hours.  It is no wonder that the earth shook when Jesus exhaled his final breath.  It is no wonder that all creation rolled and reeled with the horror of that moment.  Love Incarnate was crucified.  Death was all around.  That’s how the world still feels.  That seems to be the premise on which the world and all that is in it rests upon.  It seems as though we live in a world where nothing but death is all around.  We experience it personally with the death of people we love.  We see it in our communities, and we can’t help but witness it in the world.   This past week the news of the capsizing of South Korean ferry has filled me with immeasurable heartache.  Seeing the fear and grief of the parents and family members of those who are still missing is heartbreaking.  In the weeks before that the news about the shooting at Fort Hood and the stabbing at a high school, the missing Malaysian airplane, the mud slides in Washington State, all of those events and more break our hearts.  They are tragic and awful reminders that death is all around.  We may not like it or want to concede it, but it seems as though we live in a Good Friday world. 
But even though we can’t always recognize it and the world seems to proclaim otherwise, Good Friday is over.   
            Sunday, Easter:  The Sabbath is over and it is the first day of a new week.  In Matthew’s gospel it is two women who make their way to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.  They must have carried spices and oils; the accoutrements of the grave.  Guards stood watch.  Yet even more imposing than their menace was a rock; seemingly immovable it stood between the women and their Rabbi.  Just as it did on Good Friday, the earth shook.  All creation rocked and reeled as an angel descended, and rolled back that stone.  After it was moved, the angel sat on it, a messenger with good news to deliver.  His appearance flashed and shone, like an unceasing streak of lightning.  His clothing gleamed like new snow.  The guards, who once did the frightening, now shook and trembled at the sight of this heavenly host.  They fell into a dead faint.  But the women remained.  “Do not be afraid,” the angel told them.  “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised as he said.  Come see the place where he lay.” 
            Do not be afraid.  Angels have been uttering those words over and over.  Gabriel spoke them to Zechariah when he gave the old man the news that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son, a great prophet, John.  Gabriel reassured Mary with these words when he told her that she would bear the Son of God.  Joseph heard “do not be afraid,” when he considered divorcing Mary over her unexpected pregnancy.  Shepherds, the lowliest of the low, heard these words ring out from the heavens on the night of Jesus’ birth.  Do not be afraid! 
            Do not be afraid!  Our senses may tell us that our world and each week is made up of seven Good Fridays, but this day, this resurrection day gives testimony that there is more than we can see or hear, smell or touch or taste.  There is more than we can know or understand.  Jesus is not in the tomb.  Jesus is resurrected.  He is risen and with the rolling back of that stone, life and love was once more let loose in the world.  Do not be afraid! 
            Do not be afraid.  Easter, the resurrection, our faith in the risen Christ, is not a magic wand or spell that takes away all of the bad things in the world.  It does not keep us from dying, or from grieving when those we love die before us.  But our proclamation that Jesus is risen is our statement of hope. 
            We will not be afraid, because we know and we believe that the darkness did not and will not last.  We will not be afraid, because we believe that the powers and principalities that kill prophets and hung Jesus on the cross did not win.  We will not be afraid, because we trust that the love of God in Christ is more powerful than hate.  We will not be afraid, because we believe that love triumphs.  It defeats death.  It wins over destruction.  It is greater than the worst we can do to one another.  Love triumphs.  Do not be afraid.
            When I served as a seminary intern in a church in the 90’s, a tornado went through a town in Alabama on Palm Sunday.  Along with damaging homes and businesses, it laid low a church, demolishing the sanctuary.  The pastors of that church were a clergy couple, and the husband and one of their children were killed in the terrible storm. 
            It was awful to hear about.  It was awful to read about.  Everyone in my congregation grieved for these people and their terrible loss.  But the next week, Easter Sunday, the minister, her family and her congregation gathered in the midst of their broken building.  They literally gathered in the rubble of the sanctuary, and they worshipped.  They held their Easter service in that rubble.  They worshipped.  They gave thanks.  They praised God, and they proclaimed that Jesus is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Their loss, their grief, their heartache was acute.  It had not vanished in one week, but still they worshipped.  The coming of Easter did not mitigate their loss, but still they worshipped.  They worshipped because they trusted in the power of resurrected life over death, and the triumph of love.  They heeded the angel’s words.  Do not be afraid. 
            The angel told the women to go quickly and tell the disciples about Jesus’ rising.  He told the women to share the good news of the resurrection.  He told them, just as angels had told so many others before, “Do not be afraid.”  That was his message of good news.  That’s our message of Good News as well.  That’s our message to proclaim to a broken and hurting world.  Do not be afraid.  Death does not have the final word.  Do not be afraid.  Hope is alive.  Do not be afraid.  Love is present in the world and in our midst.  Do not be afraid.  The tomb is empty.  The grave could not hold Jesus. New life, eternal life, resurrected life is now and forever more.  Do not be afraid.  Jesus is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Let all of God’s children shout in a loud voice, “Alleluia!  Amen.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mutual Participation

John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Maundy Thursday/April 17, 2014

It's not a secret that I am a word nerd.  I love words.  I love language.  As I was thinking about my homily for tonight, I began to ruminate on the word, "communion."  In our gospel reading from John, Jesus and the disciples are together for the feast of Passover.  They will eat what we know as the Last Supper.  Our understanding of the sacrament of communion, or the Lord's Supper, comes from this meal that they shared on this particular night.  Our observance of Maundy Thursday would not be complete if we did not also celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  The word Maundy, from Latin, means "commandment".  On this night, while at dinner with his disciples, Jesus took bread and wine -- common elements at any table, much less any Passover feast -- and imbued them with new meaning.  Bread and wine now became symbols of his love and sacrifice for them.  They became symbols of remembrance.  Whenever they ate bread or drank wine, they were to remember him.  Communion.

While I use the word communion more often than I'm even aware of, I don't know that I've given much thought to the word itself.  So I turned to my handy Merriam-Webster dictionary app and looked up the actual definition of communion.

The first definitions were about the meal we will share together in a few minutes.  It is a sacrament celebrated by Christians of all denominations.  It is our fellowship together.  It is our community.  But the word communion finds its origins in Middle English, from the Latin communio or communis.  It means "mutual participation."

This meal, our communion, is about mutual participation.  Isn't that what Jesus came to do?  Isn't that what he accomplished?  From the very beginning, John's gospel describes creation itself as "the Word became flesh."  God came into the world, to be with us, as us.  Mutual participation.

John's gospel also tells us that Jesus didn't just give the disciples a commandment merely about what to think about, what to remember, whenever they ate bread and drank wine.  He gave them a commandment about love.  They were to love one another as he loved them.  How did he exemplify this love?  What was the object lesson he gave them regarding love?  He washed their feet.

Foot washing was not uncommon at that time.  Whenever a friend or a stranger came to your home, one way of offering hospitality was to wash the dust from their feet.  But the host or hostess wouldn't be the one doing the washing.  It would be a servant, a slave, who would bring the water and the towel.  It would be a servant or a slave who would kneel before the guest.  It would be the servant or the slave who would wash the feet.  But on that night Jesus brought the water.  Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist.  Jesus stooped low.  Jesus took the feet of each disciple and washed them.  Jesus became a servant, a slave, and washed their feet.

While some of our brothers and sisters in faith see the washing of the feet as being a literal part of the commandment to love, I'm not sure that was necessarily the point Jesus was making.  It is profoundly moving for me on this night to wash the feet of all who gather.  But I think that what Jesus wanted the disciples to understand was that love, loving others as he loved them, was the willingness to serve others, in any capacity.  Love was about humility.  Love was about living out compassion and care.  Showing love, giving love as Jesus loved them was the willingness to do even the most menial of tasks for someone else.  Love was mutual participation.  As Jesus loved them, so they must love one another.

Communion with one another is mutual participation in love.

In just the last few days I read a story that's making its way around the internet about a provocative sculpture that is being found in more and more places. In the article, I read that this sculpture has been erected on the campus of an affluent Episcopalian church in Davidson, North Carolina.  The church resides in an affluent neighborhood.  The sculpture is of a homeless Jesus.  It is a park bench with a man sleeping on it.  The man's head, hands, and body are covered with a blanket.  The only way to recognize it as Jesus is by looking at the bare feet, which remain uncovered.  They still bear the holes from the nails.

The reactions to the sculpture are divided.  One woman driving by called the police, because she thought it was a real person, a vagrant, sleeping on the bench.  But the artist, Tim Schmaltz, was inspired to create this piece after walking with a friend to dinner one night.  At almost every block, they passed a homeless person or persons.  Seeing these homeless people, Schmaltz saw in a new way the "least of these."  Jesus didn't come just to talk about the least of these.  He didn't come merely to give them charity, then return to the comfort of his home.  Jesus was one of the least of these.  He loved them and he was them.  His love for the least of these was a mutual participation in their lives, their circumstances.  And in the meal he shared with his disciples, he showed them in word and deed what that love looks like.  He called upon them, as he calls upon us, to be in communion.  Not only with each other, but with the least of these.  Our communion is a remembrance of his love, his sacrificial love. But it is also a call to mutually participate in that love.  As we gather around this table, may we be reminded that to love is to serve.  May we remember that our communion is about mutual participation in that serving love, with one another, with a broken world, with the least of these.  Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Triumphant Jesus

Matthew 21:1-11
April 13, 2014/Palm Sunday

            I was 15 when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.  I remember this event vividly, because the day they were married I set my alarm for 4:00 am and I got up and watched the whole wedding.  For me, and a lot of people in my generation, this was a fairy tale come true.  Sadly it did not have a fairy tale ending.  Not only with the ending of their marriage, but with Diana’s death in 1997.  Just as I woke up early to watch Diana and Charles marry, I also woke up early to watch her funeral. 
            Both of these events, happy and sad, began with a procession; a royal procession.  It was a thrill to watch the wedding procession.  All the news anchors from every news show here in the states, and from around the world, were there offering commentary on every stage of the pomp and circumstance.  When Diana’s carriage entered the procession, there were cheers and shouts.  Thousands of people lined the parade route, waving Union Jacks.  The excitement kept building as the whole entourage made its way to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It was a holiday in the UK, but the wedding was celebrated around the world. 
            It was a much more somber occasion to watch the procession that made its way to Westminster Abbey for her funeral.  Instead of a carriage there was a casket.  Instead of cheering and the waving of flags, there were tears and thousands upon thousands of flowers left by onlookers along the way.  The sight of Prince William and Prince Harry, accompanied by Prince Charles, Prince Phillip and Diana’s brother, the Earl of Spencer, was heartbreaking.  Just as the world celebrated Charles and Diana’s wedding, the world also mourned her death. 
            Two processions: one filled with joy and hope; the other filled with loss.  We celebrate a joyful, hope-filled procession this morning.  Jesus processes into Jerusalem.  Let me be clear, I am in no way trying to make a comparison between Jesus of Nazareth and Princess Diana.  Diana was as flawed as all humans are.  She was a combination of virtues and vice.  She did some good things and she also made mistakes and bad decisions.  But these two dramatic moments of her life and death were marked by pageantry and processionals.    
            By our standards of royalty, Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem isn’t quite the spectacle that we would see today.  But just as we expect royalty to arrive with ceremony, so too did the people in that time and context.  Matthew’s gospel tells of Jesus riding in on both a donkey and a colt.  The disciples laid their cloaks on the animals, and Jesus sat on those cloaks.  The people along the way also laid their cloaks on the ground, while others cut branches from the trees to lay before the arriving king. 
            Surrounding Jesus and the disciples were crowds. They went ahead of him and they followed behind.  All of them were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Hosanna! 
            What must it have been like for Jesus to process in the midst of such clamoring and commotion?  I imagine that he understood that the adoration would soon be replaced by doubt and fear and anger.  I find it unlikely that he was caught up in the ceremony and spectacle of the procession as others would have been.  He knew how quickly it would turn and become something far different.  Some commentators even speculate that Jesus may have orchestrated some of the elements that surround his entry into Jerusalem to fulfill what had been written in scripture, particularly the prophet Zachariah.
            Be that as it may, this was a procession imbued not only with excitement and drama, but with promise.  Here at last was the Messiah they had been waiting for.  The people’s hopes were revived.  At last, their salvation from God had come.  At last, the Romans would be overthrown, and the oppression and tyranny of their world lifted.  Jesus, their triumphant Jesus, was making his way up to Jerusalem.  The trip to Jerusalem was quite literally a trip up.  It’s at least a 15 mile ascent from Jericho up to the holy city. It isn’t hard to imagine that the excitement of his arrival built with every step taken on that upward way.
            It is understandable, then, why the crowds around Jesus were proclaiming him as royalty.  Those who had witnessed Jesus’ works around the countryside knew that he held a healing power and commanded an authority that could only come from God.   Surely now, as he enters the capital city, this must be his day of triumph. His entrance into Jerusalem affected the entire city.  Matthew describes the city as being “in turmoil.”  They were shaken, stirred up.  The Greek word for stirred is a form of the word for earthquake.  The city was shaken!  People who didn’t know Jesus were asking, “who is this?’  Was this man a new king?  Was he a great prophet?  Was this the Messiah?   
            We know the answer to these questions, don’t we?  We know he was and is the Messiah.  We know that although he dies, he rises again.  Death is defeated.  Love triumphs.  God wins.  Knowing this means that it would be so easy to stop here; to end this sermon with the Hosannas of Palm Sunday.  Yet this day is known as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.  Congregations may hear the story of the crowds shouting their hosannas and laying their cloaks and branches before Jesus, or they may hear the story of his crucifixion.  Some congregations hear both.  Although we hear the story of the palms and processional this day, Palm Sunday is not an end in itself.  It is a beginning.  From this day forward we move into Holy Week.  Even as the cries of Hosanna that welcomed this first procession still ring in our ears, we move closer this week to the second procession that Jesus makes; a procession that is marked with betrayal and denial, with brutality and cruelty.  The religious authorities will manipulate and twist the people’s understanding of Jesus.  Crowds filled with hope will transform into an ugly, angry mob, calling for his crucifixion and willingly taking his blood on their heads.  From this moment on, Jesus moves inexorably toward the cross.  So do we. 
The cross.  As one commentator put it, the question we so often ask is, “what does the cross say about God?”  Perhaps another question we should ask is, “What does the cross say about us?”  The cross is the worst of humanity.  It is the worst of what we do to one another.  What we don’t understand, we fear.  What we fear, we hate.  What we hate, we kill.  We cannot go through this week without facing that reality.  Our hosannas this morning are wonderful and uplifting, but they lead us to the cross. 
In a movie I saw once, one character – the religious character, who was portrayed as pompous and sanctimonious – makes an analogy about how our suffering is like Christ on the cross, therefore we shall ultimately win.  The movie’s heroic character responds to the religious person, “Yes, but Christ lost.”  When he said that, everyone around me in the theater laughed.  Christ losing was the ultimate punchline. 
The people who crowded around Jesus as he processed into Jerusalem wanted a triumphant Jesus.  They wanted the hero, the one who could not lose.  But they could not see that their understanding of triumph was not God’s.  I don’t think people have changed that much from that time to now.  The world still laughs at the foolishness of the cross, at the nonsensical belief that God could and would be killed.  I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we don’t like that idea either.  We know that it is our story, that it is the underpinning of our faith and system of belief; but it is far easier to move from Hosanna to Hallelujah, from joyful procession to empty tomb. 
But this week, this holy week, we face the cross.  The laughter of the people in that theater is all around us.  Even as the days grow longer and lighter, the world is growing darker.  The powers and principalities will win.  It won’t be a lasting victory, but they will win.  Eventually, if only for a second, the light will go out. 
As people of faith, no matter how faltering it might be, we are called, compelled into this darkness.  The only thing that can guide us will be our hope and our trust that the light of the world will return.  Let us cling to that hope.  Let us trust that at the end of this week, the darkness will not prevail.  The laughter will cease.  Let us believe and may this belief lead us through these darkening days.  Let us hope that at the end there will be a new beginning.  Let us hope that out of death will come new life.  Let us hope that when the light returns, and we hold fast to our belief that it will return, we will see and know our triumphant Jesus.  Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”