Sermon, Evensong Easter 4B

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2009 at 12:56 pm

When from my mother’s womb I came
Disputandum was my name.

Weeping, hoping, threatening,
Beyond myself I had no king.

I drew in with each hour’s breath
The grey dust of the second death.

When my childhood days were spent
To Venus I grew suppliant.

Little tremors woke and died
Within the mountain of my pride.

Singing on the gallows cart,
Created beauty held my heart,

The aardvark and the onager
Were stabled at my sepulchre.

And in that deep den the King of bliss
Broke my heart and gave me his.

“This for your doom and penance take:
Be merry always for My sake.”

He gave me a white stone to bear
With my true name written there.

Without end I will say,
Laus tibi, Domine!

James K. Baxter’s Song of the Years.
“He gave me a white stone to bear / With my true name written there”.

Here in an obscure reference from the Book of Revelation
50 years ago Baxter found the mystical metaphor he wanted
to express his claiming of faith.
His coming to some sort of maturity.
His life’s meaning.

If we are all somewhere on that journey –
and surely we are –
there is a very simple and a very profound question
to mull over this evening:  what is “my true name”?

In baptism, in my genes, in my gifts
who am I uniquely called to be by God?
What is the weight and shape and texture of the white stone you bear
that has a new name, your true name,
your identity imprinted upon it?
And is that
someone you, let alone anyone else would recognise?
*    *    *
In these weeks after Easter we have the stories of Christ
risen from the dead,
encountered in the garden,
on the Emmaus road,
on a beach, unrecognised at first.

In the breaking of the bread,
foreshadowed by the tonight’s story of manna in the desert,
and crucially, in being named:
“Mary”,  “Simon, son of John, do you love me”
the disciples are given a share in the new and undying life of Christ.
A new identity.
A new purpose.
New hope, new strength, new passion.

This new name, this true name,
somehow being from and of the one true Name,
the power that rolled away the stone of burial and the power of death.
*    *    *
A white stone, white for baptism perhaps,
from an age where the pagan world was very into amulets,
stones for protection and power,
where little white and black stones were used to cast votes
of innocence and guilt,…
for the one who in Christ overcomes or conquers, says the angel of Revelation’s
dreamlike sequence of mystic signs,
there is hidden manna, and a symbol you hold,
with a new name, known only to you,
again part of rising in baptism with Christ
and being re-created, redeemed, having our lives re-framed,
the scales rebalanced to innocence and possibility.
*    *    *
Sometimes we feel the weight of other people’s names for us,
their expectations, a family lineage.
Think about your own given name.
Your “Christian” name.
Do you know what it means?
Is it accurate?
Timotheus means “honouring God”,
and there have certainly been times
when I could have carried that weighty ambition more carefully.
We have that phrase,
used mainly when we feel it has been done to, rather than by us,
about a name being blackened.
If, …when, …we feel we have, like Baxter
sullied our name, our ideals, our image of ourselves
here is the gift of Easter, the gift of the baptism we share:
A white stone.
A gift we cannot work for,
a gift we cannot claim by any right,
a white stone placed freely in our hands
symbol and reminder to us of who we are created, called to be.

An invitation to become more like the One
whose name we as believers bear.
*    *    *
We have these images of ourselves, don’t we,
the person we aspire to be?
Honest. Reliable. Spontaneous. Fun. Serious.
Dynamic. Successful. Popular. Attractive.
How many of those names we run after
would be written on our white stone,
how many are truly who we are or should be?

To think slightly less abstractly,
how many of us would want those other words written in stone,
our epitaph, to be along the lines of:
“quite photogenic; fun at parties”?

We have a clue about who we truly are
by those things we value,
by the person we would like to be remembered as.
Most of us, I suspect,
would like our epitaph to say that we loved
and were loved,
whatever that might have looked like in our living and our dying.

T.S. Eliot calls love
“the unfamiliar Name…”
I wonder whether that is only too true
for some of us.

We heard from the First Letter of John this morning,
whose great theme is perhaps distilled to “God is love”.
At the heart of that redemptive new name we are gifted
in Christ’s overcoming darkness and death
is that true name of God.

So, when in a moment we come to the words of penitence and confession,
when we hear again that sin and sorrow need not weight us down,
be reminded of the white stone you bear,
bright with the uncreated light of the empty tomb,
of the Easter morning of our restoration.
*    *    *
In the year his too-short earthly life came to an end, James K. Baxter wrote,
Love is the answer to the dark voices
Of the demons that trouble us when youth has gone,
Saying, “You fool, you have had your day
And wasted it.” The spirit of a spring morning
When the wind moves gently over the grass
Is enough to tell us that the stone at the door of the tomb has been lifted.
Alleluia. Adonai.

  1. Brilliant !!!! Your Sermon, Evensong Easter 4B, –– posted on June 3, 2009) is brilliant; short, to the point, wise and exegetically on the mark ! T.S. Eliot is of course … What can one say? But your presentation and exegesis of JKB’s Song of the Years is BRILLIANT! That poem is BRILLIANT and note to the key related Scripture is deft. JKB is honoured by you use of his work! Song of the Years I one of my favourite poems. As it happens I know, the very desk upon which that poem was penned; it was in the Baxter house in Collingwood Street, Ngaio, Wellington. The poem was written in 52, I was born in 53. The Baxter family were our neighbours and Hemi, as he had me call him in the end, became my signpost at the time of a mid-teen “conversion” … Thank you!!! Laus tibi, Domine!

    • Thanks Gavin. Very kind. I’ve been journeying with all these words recently, as I’ve had my own struggle with Baxter’s disease. Both his poems here have been precious markers on the pathway of recovery and forgiveness. Pax. Tim.

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