On Halloween I think it’s appropriate to talk about graves and cemeteries and how we bury dead people. When I was in Spain this fall I visited a church whose churchyard is pictured here. All the rectangular stones you see in the churchyard surrounding the building are grave markers.
The people in this parish in Northern Spain had a tradition of burying people as close to the church as possible. The tradition sprang from their belief that in the resurrection, when Jesus returns and the dead will rise, those buried closest to the church door would be the first to ascend and meet Jesus. Thus, it’s good to get buried as close to the door as possible.
However, not just anyone could get buried in the courtyard. Only the wealthy could afford such a burial place, as the church leaders charged for the privilege. The most expensive spots were right as the base of these red doors. No waiting when Jesus returned.
I’m not sure how those church leaders squared this practice with the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all you have and give to the poor,” I’m hoping that teaching spurred them to take the funds for that prime gravesite and serve the poor.
I guessing that when these rich folks heard that Jesus said it was harder for a rich man to get to heaven than for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle, they were thinking that one way to get through that needle was to get close to this church door. Sort of a portal through the eye. Makes you wonder where the widow who gave her two mites would have been buried if she belonged to this congregation?
The struggle with money and how we use it is not new. It has always been a problem, which was why Jesus addressed the topic on multiple occasions. It seems not to have changed much. We still try to buy our way, even in death, closer to the church door.
Jan Hus statue in the central square of Prague
Earlier this summer I was reading about Jan Hus, the famous reformer, as part of a church history class. This past month I had the privilege of visiting Prague, Czech Republic, the former home of Jan Hus and where his statue now stands in the very center of town.
Hus spoke out against the common practice of indulgences and taught that people only obtain forgiveness through true repentance, not money. Then he opposed the crusades, writing that church leaders should take up the cross, not the sword. Hus felt that scripture did not support these practices and that scripture held the final authority. Hus was a student of John Wycliffe, who believed that people should be permitted to read and study the Bible in their own language and apply that teaching to their lives.
All this opposition to church teaching landed Hus in a rather hot spot – he was burned at the stake by church officials in 1415. His death was not in vain, of course. Thanks to people like Jan Hus, today we have open and unfettered access to the Scriptures. We owe a great debt to Hus and others like him, those who died to gain for us this wonderful privilege. Next time you open your Bible, either a physical copy or on your electronic device, know that Jan Hus is looking over your shoulder with a smile, along with a somewhat smoky odor.
I just got back from walking the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, the ancient pilgrimage traveled by seekers of Jesus for over 1,000 years. The experience was fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, the walking was hard. Fifteen miles some days and we walked a total of seventy miles over seven days as we journeyed across Northern Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
There’s something powerful about walking and contemplating the things of the Lord. I’ve never combined the physical and the spiritual in such a way before. The physicality of the Camino is what makes it a pilgrimage worth pursuing. We simply don’t get this experience anywhere in our lives.
As I’ve reflected on the experience, it seems to me that walking the Camino is a lot like living our everyday lives. You only get somewhere, or accomplish something, by taking one step at a time. Things may seem slow, but you don’t realize how far you can get a step at a time. Then you turn around and you can see how far you’ve traveled.
It’s also true that sore feet and blisters are normal on the Camino. Just like they are in life. Despite the pains and problems we all face, we continue to walk.
People over the centuries have described the Camino as a thin place, meaning a place where the boundary between heaven and earth starts to fray. It’s a location in our world where we can sense the divine more readily. I believe this to be true of the Camino. Years and years of the prayers of well-meaning pilgrims have created a worn spot in the spiritual fabric of our world. It is a unique place and spending time there was a pleasure.
The Camino de Santiago – I heartily recommend it! As of this point, Dawn and I are seriously considering going back in 2017 and taking folks with us, so if that interests you let me know!
These words framed the attitude found among the members of The Clapham Sect, a group of prominent and courageous individuals in London who banded together to change their world in the early 1800s. Centered around William Wilberforce, their greatest success culminated in the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.
They were not a single issue group, however, as they worked to reform schools and serve the poor. They started and joined in on evangelism efforts and missionary societies. They spread the scriptures and Christian writings. They looked at their society, saw needs to address and used their influence and fortunes to make a lasting difference.
Their success was profound and lasting. How about you and I? Where can we join in to help “cause evil to die” in our world today?
Louis XIV of France, or Louis the Great, or the Sun King, was among the most powerful kings in European history. Louis XIV reigned 72 years, longer that any other European monarch. With his glorious head of hair, he presided over the most magnificent, extravagant court in all Europe, and planned his own funeral to be just as spectacular.
The King instructed his court chaplain, Jean-Baptiste Massillon, that upon his death he was to lie in state in a golden coffin at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. At his funeral service the entire cathedral was to be completely dark, lit dimly by only a single candle positioned above the coffin. Louis the Great wanted to be held in awe by all in attendance and the candle was to remind them of his singular greatness.
When Louis died, Massillon did exactly as the King had instructed. At the funeral thousands waited in silence as they peered at the elegant casket that held the mortal remains of their monarch, illuminated by the single flickering candle.
Massillon rose to eulogize the king. But before he spoke, Massillon reached out and snuffed out the candle representing the late king’s greatness. Then in the darkness of Notre Dame he proclaimed to all, “Only God is Great.” His words rang out like thunder, an astonishing reminder to those in attendance of the proper place of the late king.
Massillon’s words remain as a necessary reminder to those of us today who idolize celebrities and politicians and powerful persons and the uber-wealthy and all whom our society considers “great.” Remember – Only God is Great.