Author Archives: jrandolphclark

In the midst of life we are in death

In the midst of life we are in death

 

I have spoken these words at every funeral at which I have officiated over 25+ years.  The words are likely from a hymn originating in France around 750 AD.  As long as I can remember they have been part of the suggested graveside service in The United Methodist Book of Worship 

They came to mind over the weekend. Late Saturday evening I had a series of text messages telling me that a Masonic Brother died suddenly at age 43. I did not know him well but had come to know him over the last few years. He had become a Scottish Rite officer only a few months ago and I looked forward to years more of friendship and service. Some stories do not end where we imagined they would.

At first hearing these beautiful words are quite sobering. We are in life and then confronted, sometimes as here suddenly and tragically, by death. It comes we know not when. It seems, at times, to come with neither rhyme nor reason. If human biology is the sum of our existence – if the last beat of our hearts is the last of us – this may be a cry of despair.  It is an observation of the universality and finality of death.

But these words are in truth an affirmation, even words of praise. Death is in truth an episode in life and not its end.  It comes in the mist of life – if you will in the middle. There is more on the other side of it. Much more.

In his marvelous reflection on the resurrection, Paul writes:

 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 15:55-57  NIV)

Paul is actually quoting the prophet Hosea in the first bit where God promises to deliver from the power of the grave. If the grave is the end its power to overshadow life is immeasurable. If it is a door to more life on the side? Its power is real but temporary, its shadow dark but only for a passing moment.

I need to hear these words today when a 43-year old man with young sons and a grieving wife finds himself in the midst of death. In Christ there is a victory even in a moment of tragic death. And not just for Larry… but for us who remain to bear its grief and puzzle over its meaning.

 

“For the Christian, death is not the end of adventure
but a doorway from a wold where dreams and adventures shrink,
to a world where dreams and adventures forever expand.”

― Randy Alcorn, Heaven

 

 

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Masonic Thought – Week of 4/30/2018

Freemasonry has endured not because of its antiquity, its influence, or its social standing, but because there have been so many who have lived it. The effectiveness of Masonic teachings will always be the measure by which the outside world judges Freemasonry; the proof of Freemasonry is in our deeds and it is in our deeds that Freemasonry is made known to non-Masons. The only way that the Craft can be judged is by its product. The prestige of Freemasonry lies squarely on the shoulders of each of us.

– Bro. G. Wilbur Best

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Easter 2018

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Matthew 28:6-7 NIV

 

We who celebrate today (and next week in the Eastern Church) celebrate not that Jesus is alive but that he is risen.  That the tomb is empty – not that Jesus lives eternally. That Jesus appeared several times and in several ways including, of all the odd facts, eating fish with his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

In the years I have followed Christ I have had many doubts. I have wondered about many things. Curiously the physical, real resurrection of Jesus from the dead has remained one of the things that I haven’t doubted or questioned much if at all.

Jesus has gone where we must all go. Jesus has experienced what every human I know has and will know – the end of life. His death is as real as that of every person I have loved who has gone. His resurrection is just as real – he has been raised from the grave. Not some spirit who ascended to heaven leaving earth behind. Not a ghost who appears to comfort his grieving friends. He rose – his tomb was empty. Some days later this same Jesus ascends in his new body.

To say Jesus is risen is to place the locus of our faith in the present and not the future only. I am not just waiting for the sweet by-and-by. I live in the world, the reality where Jesus rose from his grave. A world where something changed. There is no going back to the shadows. There is no undoing of the undoing of his death.

A bit of the future has leaked into the present if you will. The resurrection of the dead that we proclaim in the creeds has started. Only one so far. But not the end or only one ever. Not a solitary resurrection but a prologue of what is to come. A promise of what will break forth. A new heaven and a new earth John saw (Revelation 21:1). Not just heaven.

This all matters because the reality of the resurrection is not only for the graveside. It is for the breakfast table and the office chair and the checkout line at the grocery. To live in a world where Jesus rose is to live a risen life in that world. Jesus is risen. Now he invites us to go and do likewise. I am not always sure what that means. But I am sure it is so.

 

 

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Good Friday 2018

Gasping out his last breath. Calling out for help. Alone. In pain. Suffering at the last instead of peace.

Not the kind of death we want for ourselves or those whom we love.  Over the decades that I was a pastor I was with many people in their last days, hours, even moments. Almost to a person they died peacefully. Beautifully even. Surrounded by friends and family in many cases they breathed their last breath of earth.

Good Friday is a day that will not let us sanitize either death or suffering. It will not let us think that every death is like the ones I witnessed over those years. Jesus’ death was not so.

Those opening words above were not just about Jesus – they were about my dad. I had never thought until I woke this morning about my dad’s death in the shadow of Good Friday. But he died alone. And his death was unpleasant and unthinkable from all we can tell. It still haunts me. As does – and should – the death of Jesus on that long ago Friday.

Today is a day to be uncomfortable. To remember there is pain in the world. To remember that not all deaths are peaceful transitions. Not all passings are easy. Not everyone’s earthly journey ends as it should or might.

Jesus’ death changed everything. But it changed nothing. Something to ponder today.

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Masonic Quote of the Week – 3/19/2018

Yesterday was the 99th anniversary of the founding of the Order of DeMolay and the 704th anniversary of the death of Jacques DeMolay. Rather than post a quote I share this video of an interview with Dad Frank S. Land and President Harry S. Truman:

 

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Masonic Thought – Week of 2/19/2018

In honor of yesterday’s observance of Presidents Day in the U.S. …

 

“Although I hold the highest civil honor in the world, I have always regarded my rank and title as a Past Grand Master of Masons the greatest honor that had ever come to me.”

 

Harry S. Truman // President of the United States

 

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Masonic Thought – Week of February 5, 2018

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“We have all the light we need,
we just need to put it in practice.”

 

Albert Pike

 

Brother Albert Pike is best known for his leadership of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, whose rituals he rewrote and redeveloped. His other claim to fame is his authorship of the book Morals and Dogma about those rituals and degrees. 

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Masonic Thought – Week of 1/17/2018

“Freemasonry has tenets peculiar to itself. They serve as testimonials of character and qualifications, which are only conferred after due course of instruction and examination. These are of no small value; they speak a universal language, and act as a passport to the attentions and support of the initiated in all parts of the world. They cannot be lost as long as memory retains its power. Let the possessor of them be expatriated, shipwrecked or imprisoned, let him be stripped of everything he has got in the world, still those credentials remain, and are available for use as circumstances benmasonrequire.

The good effects they have produced are established by the most incontestable facts of history. They have stayed the uplifted hand of the destroyer; they have softened the asperities of the tyrant; they have mitigated the horrors of captivity; they have subdued the rancor of malevolence; and broken down the barriers of political animosity and sectarian alienation. On the field of battle, in the solitudes of the uncultivated forest, or in the busy haunts of the crowded city, they have made men of the most hostile feelings, the most distant regions, and diversified conditions, rush to the aid of each other, and feel a special joy and satisfaction that they have been able to afford relief to a Brother Mason.”

Benjamin Franklin

 

Brother Benjamin Franklin was born on this date (January 17)  in 1706. He was a Mason for sixty years and held a number of leadership positions including  Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania. He published the first Masonic book in America in 1734.

 

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Masonic Thought – Week of 1/9/2018

I regard the Masonic institution as one of the means ordained by the Supreme Architect to enable mankind to work out the problem of destiny; to fight against, and overcome, the weaknesses and imperfections of his nature, and at last to attain to that true life of which death is the herald and the grave the portal.

Theodore Roosevelt

 

Brother Theodore Roosevelt never held Masonic office but was proud of his Masonic membership. This picture of him in Master’s regalia was staged. Roosevelt became a member of Matinecock Lodge No. 806, Grand Lodge of New York, while Vice-President and remained an active Freemason during his Presidency. 

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St. John’s Day Reflections 2017

st__john_the_evangelist_icon_by_theophilia-dat6azkToday is the annual observance of the feast of St. John the Evangelist (sometimes called St. John the Apostle as well). One of the lodges to which I belong traditionally installed its officers on this day – as do some Grand Lodges.  As some have noted, neither St. John revered by Freemasons has anything to do with building or architecture. What makes the Evangelist worth our devotion as men and Masons?

John is the only apostle who (according to tradition) lived to old age. While modern biblical scholarship tells a different tale, the early Freemasons grew up in a culture that taught he wrote one of the four gospels that tell of the life and ministry of Jesus. One of the notable features of that story is that John never refers to himself by name but as the one whom Jesus loved.

At 51 I appreciate that John’s great revelation (the book of Revelation) comes in that latter part of life. The one whom Jesus loved had lived almost his entire life before that revelation came to him. Like a medieval cathedral that took generations of planning and execution to complete, John’s life laid the foundation for that moment of profound vision.

Our building is not complete until life nears its end. We make our plans (often unaware about how the Grand Architect of the Universe plans in parallel and sometimes contrast) and place our stones. The work of a lifetime is just that – a work unfinished until we lay the last stone with our last strength.

May we build faithfully in the year to come. May we reflect with satisfaction and gratitude on what God has allowed us to build – even if partially. Even in the moments when we think we are finished… or may be  frustrated at our lack of understanding of what our building will be… may we remain faithful to our calling and profession.

 

 

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