“Creative Burying”

Heb. 5/Jn. 12

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

“Leave the dead to bury the dead.”

Jesus gave that stern advice just after he had called a young man to be one of his disciples. The man had indicated his willingness to join Christ’s mission, but first, he wanted to go off to attend his father’s funeral.

For Jesus, the immediate demands of the Kingdom of God were so urgent that they even outweighed the obligation to honor a deceased parent. So the man was told to join the movement to follow Jesus immediately, leaving his father to be buried by unbelievers.

Jesus was likely exaggerating here to make a point. One should usually honor one’s parents, as the Ten Commandments say.

But sometimes, the past must be left behind. In today’s Second Lesson, Jesus says that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Now, as we know, this statement reflects an outdated biological theory. People once believed that a seed needed to die in order for a new plant to emerge.

Today, biologists recognize that wheat seeds aren’t really dead, and after the seeds are planted, living cells within them reproduce, so that eventually a new plant emerges from the ground. The seed doesn’t really die . Rather, the life within it blossoms and eventually rises out of the earth.

But the mistaken biology here shouldn’t distract us from the deeper meaning of Christ’s words –for these words refer to his own imminent future. After Christ is dead and buried, he will be given a resurrection body He will himself emerge from the earth of the tomb.

Yet I want to offer an additional interpretation. I want to suggest that the text speaks about all of us – about all human beings. The text suggests that there are times when we only find new life when we are able to bury memories of our old life.

This truth is supported, in fact, by psychotherapy. Therapy initially works by helping us to discover traumatic events in our past; this deep knowledge of ourselves helps us to understand how we feel today.

But psychotherapy also recognizes that that healing doesn’t end with such mental excavations. Once we appreciate what’s bothering us, we need to let go of the haunting past.

In other words, we should walk away from bad memories that are holding us back and keeping us from doing the work God has called us to do. We should bury the dead times so we can find a full life in the present.

A few years ago, during Lent, one of our Sunday School teachers asked her students to write down their sins on little pieces of paper. Then after church that morning, the class went out into the garden on 35th Street, dug a little hole, and put their papers in it.

This is a good exercise for adults to perform in their imaginations. If you find that you can’t stop recalling some foolish thing you once did, think of putting that memory into a hole in the ground. Pile the earth over it, accept God’s forgiveness, and then get on with your life.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies…” “Leave the dead to bury the dead…” How often we hold onto thoughts of the past, even when they make us miserable! If we’re going to stop clinging to past traumas, we need to take drastic measures.

A woman cheats on her boyfriend and the relationship ends. For years afterward, she regrets her betrayal. She wishes she had appreciated her friend instead of looking for extra excitement. She may even find herself thinking of him when she sees a man who looks like her friend or when she passes a restaurant where they once had dinner.

While some of her memories are happy, most of the thoughts that come to her mind are laden with guilt. They’re so painful that they keep her from seeing the good things God is offering her, right now.

The woman needs to put her regrets before God. She needs to accept God’s forgiveness for her mistakes, and then let her memories recede into the past, once and for all.

In this respect, it is worth noting an important spiritual law that applies to the confession of sins: once you have acknowledged your faults to God, as far as God is concerned, that’s the end.

The process is over. You don’t have to think about that sin again.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth…” One of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century, Paul Tillich referred to God as “the Ground of our being.”

Tillich meant by this expression that our personal reality is intimately connected with the divine. As St. Paul said, in God, “we live and move and have our being.”

Thus, for Christians, burying past tribulations is not simply trying to forget them. When we confess out sins, we turn them over to God – in effect we plant them in the Ground of Our Being. And then, God gives us the strength and the hope to move on to a happier future.

Genuine new life emerges when the seed of remorse is left behind for good.

So, as we begin the services of Holy Week next Sunday, and we recall the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, and the crucifixion on Good Friday, we are asked not to be passive observers.

We’re not just supposed to think about these solemn events. For, as St. Paul also said, we must be “buried with Christ in his death,” We must be buried with him if we are, on Easter Day, to be “raised with him in his resurrection.”

Our faith should not be guilt-inducing–but guilt-erasing. And the best thing is, this process leads us to a new life with Christ. For: to bury, is to plant.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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