There are quite a few different terms people like to go by how for what we once simply called a “funeral,” such as “memorial service,” “celebration of life,” none of which are incorrect and recognize the paradox of grief and joy mixed together by which I always describe such a Christian celebration at its outset, and forgive me for acknowledging that my preferred term is “Service of the Resurrection,” which I offer for the purpose of saying that part of what I am offering today is likely to be included in what I shall offer later in the year in a Service of the Resurrection for Dick Bondelid, who went to the Lord on May 31, following years of illnesses.
Some of you would not have known Dick, who was last here more than a year ago. He and his wife, Flory, lived, she still lives, in Eugene, Oregon, but they were Florence Gardens snowbirds and active in the life of this Florence congregation from before I arrived here; indeed, as I understood it, Flory organized the women’s Bible study that used to meet on Tuesday afternoons. Dick was one of those whom I visited in more than one location as he battled a series of health issues. He was a regular participant in our men’s breakfasts, and one with whom, until a few months ago, I discussed and shared books, often on history, especially of the two world wars, or shared lists of books, or, related to one of those books, I believe, a box of DVD’s of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries based on the novels of the Oxford University classicist and Christian apologist — that’s a word some ask me about, and It basically means “defender” or “advocate” — Christian apologist, Dorothy’s L. Sayers. Those mysteries were the light end of what we shared; it was Dick who loaned me Eric Metaxas’s monumental biography of the German theologian, preacher, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who as I often say, posthumously became one of my four heroes. I last spoke with Dick a few months back, after Flory had been compelled to move him into an assisted living facility, and our discussion was, as it had often been, about books. Though his physical being was fragile, like one of those “clay jars” Paul described in our Epistle reading today, even over the phone, something shined in Dick.
What does this have to do with anything, especially on this day we celebrate the Sacrament of The Lord’s Supper?
Let me say straight away that a week and one-half ago, before Patricia and I left for our five night vacation and before Dick’s death, God works in mysterious ways, I had already chosen and had prepared today’s bulletin, intentionally using last week’s Lectionary’s Hebrew Bible and Gospel lessons — I thought I would preach on how Jesus deals with the distinction between “law” and the “spirit of the law,” and also the New Testament lesson, which John Guy read for us from what our President refers to as “Two Corinthians.” It is a passage I loved from before I became a pastor, from when my own pastor had referred to it.
It has always appealed to me, because, while in several of his letters, Paul refers to his own, not-clearly-identifiable, physical infirmity, in today’s passage, I believe he was referring not to himself, but to all who serve as disciples of our Lord and Savior, when he says: “But we have this treasure in clay jars.” Clay, not steel or plastic, which will not break, but clay.
Different translations use different words: earthen vessels, clay vessels, but I think neither “vessels” nor “jars” is adequate to allow us to understand what Paul is trying to say. Substitute lamps for vessels or jars, and I think we get his point: these very breakable — I love the term, friable — these friable lamps carry oil that burns to give off light. What Paul is describing as inside those earthen vessels, those clay lamps, those weak and fragile and perhaps disease-ridden physical human bodies, what is inside is what enabled him and his fellow evangelists, is what enables us, to give off the light of Christ!
Let us look again at what Paul has said:
6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way. . . but not destroyed;
10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
No matter how fragile, how friable, those vessels, which is to say, no matter how weak or frail or diseased our physical bodies might be, they still can give off the light of Christ! This was true for Dick the years I knew him; it is true for Bob Goree who suffers now, it is true for any one of us: we carry within us what you and I know as “The Holy Spirit,” the presence of Christ, allowing us to give off light to those around us. That is our gift — that is, the gift that we have received, — but it is a gift that carries with it the opportunity to help others to see Him, to see Jesus, and in that way to come to know God.
And we can show his presence no matter the condition of our personal clay lamp bodies. I found this to be true of Dick Bondelid; I find it to be true of others whom I visit on your behalf, such as Phyllis Mikles, Phyllis Carlson, Lois Kuder, people in whom I experienced — saw, see — the light of Christ from within those bodies, those friable clay lamps, “saw” even over the telephone, even as the friable vessels of those same bodies are failing, or, as in Dick’s case, had failed them.
And so may it be for you and for me.
Oil is consumed as it burns in a lamp to give off light, and while the Holy Spirit is not consumed, long before death is near, the human parts of us beyond our fragile and friable bodies do tire. We can feel exhausted, such that even the Spirit within us that gives off that light might itself need refreshing and “refueling.” That is one way to look at what the Sacrament does for us: it provides oil to feed the flame of the Spirit that gives off the light of Christ from within us to a world that so badly needs to see it.
So as we come to the Table today, let us come humbly and vulnerably as earthen vessels, as clay lamps, looking for more oil to burn, so that we might show to the world the light of Him whom we proclaim, the one who initiated this Sacrament. (No