Sermon for November 25th 2007
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels Church, Longboat Key.
Jeremiah 23: 1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, and Luke 23: 33-43.
Thank you for your welcome when I visited last month, and again this morning.
My name is Michael Povey, and your Rector and I knew each other back in Massachusetts. I have one little question. What happened to St. Michael in your Church dedication!
There is a word in the Welsh language which is almost untranslatable into English. It is “hierith”. It is a word for this time of year, between Thanksgiving and Advent.
Hierith is a word which is so hard to describe. It’s a longing for one’s home, land, family, and it’s a deep sadness in the soul for all those who are away from their homeland and kinfolk. It’s a longing, yearning to be whole again, both a sadness and a blessing.
I wrote my sermon for today last Monday. It’s alright in its own way, and I’ll post it to my blog. But it is not this sermon. For I had a moment of hierith on Tuesday night.
It was in a dream. I dreamed that I was back home again in England. I was at home in our dining room. And there was my mother. My mother who died six years ago. She was sitting at the dining room table in her favourite camel coloured top coat, and wearing her “Sunday go to Church” hat.
Then, in my dream, it was the next day, and I was upstairs in our home. I saw my step-father and told him with great excitement “Mum is back”. He refused to believe me. “Yes” I cried, “I had dinner with her last night”. “You weren’t even here last night” he replied.
I woke up with such hierith. It dominated my heart for a couple of days. “If only Mum were here with me now”.
Hierith. Deep longing, with both sadness and blessing. The holidays bring that out in us. We want to go back to when he/she was yet alive. Or even better, we want to bring him or her into our present.
Hierith. A sad wistfulness for that moment, that day, that year, that period of time when every thing and every person seemed to fit into the right place.
Hierith. A sadness for what might have been. We long for the person we loved, who died, or moved away, or ceased to love us, or never loved us despite our own deep passion. Or a wry remorse for the choice we made or did not make.
But also a longing for the future. Hierith, that fitful lusting for a future in our own lives, in the lives of our children, in the life of the Church, or in the life of our beloved United States. A future when proud divisions will cease. A longing for a time, maybe even a moment at which we will know that we are eternally loved, loved without doubt by the God we dimly know.
Maybe Jeremiah was living in hierith. His nation had been all but destroyed. He was about to go into exile. All his preaching had been in vain. He has hierith for the past and for the future.
For the past: a longing for the golden days of David the King. Golden at least in memory.
For the future: A longing for a new King, who will be wise, and just and righteous.
We long, do we not, for the good old days, and for better days to come.
And the writer to the Colossians. An hierith for the future - a reconciliation of all things, whether in heaven or on earth through the exalted Christ. It has not happened yet.
And yet we continue to long and yearn to be whole again:- in ourselves, in our families, in our Church and Nation, and in the world.
That’s a way to approach Advent. To think of it, not as a season of penitence, but as a season of hierith - a yearning that the Christ-child for whom we long, will set all things right.
Is it a futile longing?
I thought so at first last Wednesday. I was with friends in an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End. There were three or four families in a private room just off the main dining room. They were noisy and boisterous in a good sort of way. Then I watched in horror. A father pushed his 13 or 14 year old daughter by the shoulders, backing her into a corner. She held her hands alongside her face, with fingers in her ears as he screamed and yelled. He raised his fist to her, and I was both ready to intervene, and paralysed with fear. He launched his right fist, and smacked it into his left hand, held inches before her face - as if to say “I could punch you right now” . He called her a shit, and returned to the others. She slowly returned too, head held low. My hierith, with tears, was for the hope that no child, NO CHILD, should ever have such violence done to her. I retreated to the bathroom to weep.
An hour later I was in Cambridge, MA and stopped at the local CVS. As I left a beautiful young African American teenager accosted me. “Would I like to buy some candy, to support keeping kids off the street?” he asked. Cynical as ever, I suspected a scam. But the face of the young girl in the restaurant was still in my mind. “How much is the candy?” I asked. (And it was brand name candy). “Three dollars for the candy” he said, “but the smile is free”. “Oh”, I said, “they have taught you such a line”. “It’s not a line” he replied, ‘it’s what I want to say”. So I gave him five dollars, and took a pack of “Kit-Kats”.
“What’s your name?” I asked. “Duran” he said. Then my hierith returned with full force and tears. I looked in to his eyes and said “Duran, please hang tight with all those people who love you, and all those people you love”.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, but before Advent. A Sunday for hierith.
A longing, yearning to be whole again, both a sadness and a blessing.
Please hang tight with all those people who love you, and all those people you love.