Homily for 24 March 2013 – Palm Sunday – Year C

Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Psalm 31; Luke 22:14-23:56

“Not Dead But Gone Before”

On the 30th of July 1865 the paddle steamer “Brother Jonathan”, out of San Francisco, ran into an uncharted rock near St. George’s Reef, off the coast of Crescent City, CA. The ship sank, killing 244 passengers and crew, with only 19 survivors. The dead were buried in a plot set aside in Crescent City, it became known as the “Brother Jonathan Cemetery”. Over the years this cemetery became neglected and overrun with the verdant plant life of the Pacific Northwest. In the 1960’s the city relocated the cemetery within a memorial park for the “Brother Jonathan”, with the gravestones laid out so they could be seen and read. As young children my brother and sisters and I would often visit this memorial and read the headstones. Some had on them an inscription that was very mysterious to my child’s mind, “Not Dead But Gone Before”. We all puzzled over what that could mean. Now, close to fifty years later, it is no longer a puzzle, I know what it means. We have just heard, in our Gospel lesson, the account of Christ’s Passion, Death and burial, and we will hear it again on Good Friday. Our Lord died on the Cross, but, he was not dead but gone before; gone before us into death and hell to defeat them, gone before to the fullness of the Kingdom to open the way that we might follow. All the faithful who have fallen asleep in the Lord are not dead but gone before, gone before us to the Lord. Our dear Carl has gone before us to be with the Lord, to wait our coming to join him there. Since I heard of Carl’s passing I have been uplifted with joy, it came to me so clearly that he was with the Lord, that I wanted to dance and sing. Because Christ has gone before us, death is not to be feared, separation is not to be dreaded, loss is only temporary – the circle will be unbroken. That is what Holy Week is about, passing through death in triumph and victory, going into the dark valley, but coming out on the mountaintop of the Resurrection.

Yes, we will suffer in this life, we will mourn, we will shed tears of sorrow and loss, but that darkness is only a shadow, an ephemeral thing that passes with the light of the Son. The best memorial we can give to those who have gone ahead is to live victoriously in Christ, to choose, in this world of sin and death, a life of faith, joy and hope, a life not lived in the shadow or in darkness, but in the Light of the Truth of Christ.

In the practice of the Eastern Church, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are one event – Christ’s Crucifixion and Death, his harrowing of Hell and His glorious Resurrection are all present at once, and always present. This is a good way for us to approach living our life in Christ, in this fallen world – in the midst of pain there is joy, in the center of death there is life, in sorrow there is hope.

Remember, wherever we are, however dark it is around us, however lost we may be, however “Friday” our life seems, Sunday is Coming.

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