Monday, April 16, 2007

Love is strong as death

Tonight I thought we would have only a short homily, but there are some events in the news that we will have to deal with.

First, though, let me read you this from the Song of Songs:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned.

Song of Songs, 8:6-7

In the news reports I have read today, most recently from the Washington Post, came word that 33 people had died in shootings at Virginia Tech. It happened early this morning, before school, in a dormitory, and two hours later, in a couple of classrooms. The latest word is that it is over; that the shooter is among the dead. Homicide and suicide, both.

Why? Why would someone do such a thing?

This may be cruel, but let me give you these comments by William Shakespeare:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause…

(HAMLET, Act III, Scene I.)

How do we deal with this, with suffering and death, with hopeless violence?

The Economist (March 24th 2007, page 98) recently printed the obituary of a Buddhist monk, Preah Maha Ghosananda. He was the “Gandhi of Cambodia”. He dedicated his life to bringing reconciliation and harmony back to his war-torn homeland, walking from placed to place through the forest bring a message of peace. “We must find the courage to leave our temples”, Ghosananda insisted, “and enter the suffering-filled temples of human experience.”

The obituary, lovingly written, ends with this quotation, from the Buddha’s Metta Sutta, or Words of Love:

For the pure-hearted one
Having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

Not born again – into this world of suffering. Never again to be subjected to the karmic cycle.

Nicodemus and Jesus had quite another message for us in the gospel we heard tonight (John 3:1-8).

Nicodemus certainly had no thought of reincarnation. He asked an almost comical question: How can a man be born again? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and start over?

Jesus taught him there are no “do-overs”, no going back to the beginning and starting over. You do not need to be born over and over again – you must be born from above.

This is not about the cessation of suffering, but about God with us, suffering alongside us, offering us meaning – and hope, the hope of the resurrection, the hope that may bring comfort tonight to some people in Virginia, in California, in Sacramento.

Monday, April 16, 2007
Holy Eucharist 5:45 p.m.
Acts 4:23-31, Psalm 2:1-9, John 3:1-8
Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento

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