1. A couple of years ago, a parishioner gave me a book.
a. It was a journal with an odd cover.
b. It had the picture of a skull, and the Latin words
2. Now this parishioner is not some heavy metal head
a. Nor is she into the dark arts of magic
b. She is not some goth nor a witch.
3. She is actually quite traditional,
a. as is the symbol of the skull,
b. and the phrase Memento Mori.
4. The skull often occurs in pictures of the saints,
a. and if we look around here
b. we might find one in the pictures which adorn our
5. And the Phrase memento mori is also deeply rooted in our
6. It is Latin for “a reminder of death.”
7. And it, along with the skull,
a. is placed in pictures of saints
b. and even of the crucifixion
i. to remind us all that
1. no matter how young we are,
a. one day we will grow old,
2. no matter how strong we are,
a. one day we will weaken,
3. no matter how full of life we might feel,
a. one day we are all going to die.
8. I can well imagine the reactions of most people here
a. were they to be given such a gift!
9. After all, no one wants to be reminded
a. that we are not in control.
10. But truth be told,
a. a book and a skull don’t do that.
11. Newspapers and headlines of collapsing governments
and radical insurgents do that.
12. Surging coronavirus cases, struggling hospitals and
overwhelmed healthcare workers do that.
13. The collapse of alliances, the threats of war and
terrorism do that.
14. In our own lives, sickness and death do that.
15. I will never forget that time in 1998-9
a. when both my parents died,
16. and then right after that,
a. two aunts and an uncle passed away.
17. my parishioners were very supportive.
18. But of course, I was still a priest
a. I was still in control. I had to be.
i. But inside
ii. I felt as if I were falling apart.
iii. It affected my professional life, but also my
b. It wasn’t that I no longer believed in God,
c. I just wondered, in the face of so much death and
suffering, why I should.
i. Memento Mori.
19. The people of Israel knew this feeling well.
a. For they had been wandering Arameans,
i. Egyptian slaves
ii. Nomadic herdsmen
b. And after only a short period of time
c. as a mighty nation under Kings David and Solomon
i. Their kingdom was broken, destroyed,
ii. and they were exiled once again
1. to an alien land called Babylon.
20. Although the story in today’s first reading takes place
early in Israel’s history.
a. it was probably written down during their time in
21. Thus in order to understand it,
a. we have to know that they were suffering.
22. And like me, like so many of us,
a. in the face of suffering and death,
i. It isn’t that they no longer believed,
ii. It is just that they often wondered why they
23. When Joshua stood before all the tribes at Shechem
a. Joshua reminded them of all the great things God had
done for them;
i. all the while they were wandering Arameans,
ii. slaves in Egypt and nomadic herdsmen.
24. But if the people of Israel needed to be reminded;
a. well then that must mean that they had forgotten.
b. And it is easy to understand why.
25. When we suffer,
a. it becomes the only thing in our lives.
b. we see everything through it.
c. and often we see nothing at all – just the suffering.
26. So we need to be reminded;
a. reminded yes, that suffering and death come to all of
b. but also reminded that there is more to life than
suffering and death.
27. And that the things that were so good
a. are still there
b. and are still good.
c. And therefore, God is still there and God is good.
28. That is what Joshua is doing;
a. he is reminding the people of Israel
i. both those standing there that day,
ii. and all those who would come after them.
iii. that despite the suffering in their lives.
1. God has been good.
29. But that is not all that Joshua is doing.
a. Joshua is not just reminding the people of Israel
b. of all the ways God has been with them throughout
c. He is healing them of that blindness
i. which sees only their suffering.
30. Or at least he is trying to. Why?
31. Because to be healed of the blindness caused by
a. something has to happen.
b. God can’t do it.
c. Joshua can’t do it.
d. only they can.
i. They must choose.
e. Choose to embrace life once again in all its fullness,
i. and let go of the suffering that causes blindness.
32. Jesus’ disciples might not have been blind in today’s
a. but they had every reason to be.
33. For here at the conclusion of the story
a. we have been reading for weeks from John,
34. all the people,
a. who, only a few verses before,
i. were ready to make Jesus their new king,
ii. abandoned him.
35. For Jesus’ disciples,
a. this was a disaster.
36. They had given up everything
a. to follow him as their future king.
b. And they had just seen their future die.
37. It was at that moment the suffering disciples had to
a. what Israel had to do in the first reading.
b. What Israel has always had to do throughout their
c. what we all have to do whenever we suffer.
38. We have to choose.
39. Choose in the midst of suffering.
a. For the disciples
i. it was to choose to stick with Jesus.
b. For Israel that day at Shechem
i. it was to serve the one Jesus called Father.
c. But in both cases the choice was clear.
i. if we want to be healed of the blindness
ii. and to embrace life again: serve.
40. Answers like that sound a little too simple to us.
a. They sound like the mindless platitudes
i. that people say when we are suffering.
b. Things like; “it’ll all turn out for the best”,
c. or “She’s in a better place”.
i. They are supposed to make us feel better;
ii. but only protect the people saying them
from our suffering.
41. Except for one thing: Service works.
a. At least it did for me. Because in the months after my
1. I had work to do.
2. Sermons to preach,
3. children to teach,
4. a church to serve.
42. My service forced me to take my eyes off my
43. And see other people in theirs.
44. But just so to see their joys:
a. their marriages, their baptisms, their successes.
b. and then to begin to see the same things in my life.
45. It wasn’t that they weren’t there before; they were.
a. I was just blind to them.
46. And when I began to see them,
a. I realized that I was healing.
47. Although my parents had died.
a. I was beginning to live again.
48. I share this personal story because
a. I have been reflecting on how much has changed
since the death of my parents. Their deaths were
truly a memento mori.
1. But, although I thought my life was over,
2. my life has continued.
3. I became a pastor.
4. I have new people to care for
5. and new churches to serve.
6. and although I thought I would always
suffer I no longer do.
49. Things change. Eventually everything does.
a. Which is why we need to be reminded,
i. of suffering, yes, but also of life.
ii. Of death but, if you will, also of
iii. One way is through a skull and the phrase
iv. But it must be balanced with something
else – a memento vitae,
v. if you will - a reminder of life.
b. That is what service does.
c. It reminds us that there is more to life than the
d. And that the things that were so good are still there
and are still good.
e. And therefore God is still there and God is good.
f. And thus, gives us a reason to choose to live again.