In the Lectionary

Sunday, September 25, 2011: Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

A man once bought himself a cemetery plot and a lawn chair, and then took a week of vacation to sit on the chair at his plot. I don't think he sat there because the view was pleasant or because he was proud of his new property. He did it because he wanted to see his life from the point of view of his death and his death from the point of view of his life. Ignatian spiritual directors do something similar when they invite Christians to imagine thinking backward from their dying moment to a decision or choice that they're about to make: If you were looking back from the end of your life, would that decision or choice be from God?

Mortality is a gift of God that helps us look to all our forebears in the faith as exemplars of discipleship; the moment of our dying prompts us to consider how often ethical decisions are made in faithfulness but without certitude. As we anticipate that final moment, we consider our deepest values, our surest beliefs and our ultimate hope. That hope leads us to live with integrity as far as we are able, and to finish our days with reliance upon God's mercy for everything.  

A few months ago I stopped at Author's Ridge, a graveyard in Concord, Massachusetts, where several literary and philosophical leaders of the 19th century are buried. At the gravesite of Ralph Waldo Emerson, probably the best-known and most widely read philosopher of his day, is an immense boulder of white quartz with a bronze plaque stating his name and his words: "passive Master in the hands of the Over-Soul." To me both the stone and the quote seem outsized.