A place of holy mystery

Pentecost 3c – Sunday 9th June 2013
Luke 7: 11-17

Creative CoffinsAs Rolf Harris would say, “Can you guess what it is yet?”

Top marks to all of you who said a coffin.

Yes! Each one of these pictures is an example of a coffin created by Ghanaian carpenter Joseph Ashong – pictured top with his trademark Lion coffin.

I saw this wonderful news story on the BBC last week as Joseph came over to spend a month at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire as artist in residence. Over the years he’s made huge number of coffins for different people – Coke Bottles for Street Vendors, Chillies for Restaurateurs, Lions for heads of family’s. Coffins designed to celebrate a person’s life.

Here’s a question for you. What type of coffin would you choose?

I don’t think the coffin in Luke’s gospel was created by a forefather of Joseph Ashong. In fact, in the time of Jesus most bodies were carried to the grave on a stretcher or in a type of wicker basket just wrapped in a funeral shroud. That’s why when Jesus told the young man to get up, he sat up without banging his head!

What this story – and indeed, what the colourful, creative coffins of Joseph Ashong convey to me – is that death should not be feared. The gospel story reinforces the understanding that Jesus is the Lord of life and the Lord of death. He came to show us the way to life. He went to the cross to overcome death.

As is frequently quoted, there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Death is an inevitability. And yet we often shy away from thinking about it, preparing ourselves for it, embracing it. Death is a moment to celebrate – to celebrate achievement, to celebrate life, to celebrate relationships, to celebrate love. It is part of our faith journey. And yet, whilst the gospel story reveals to us time and time again the wonderful healing power of Jesus we know the reality is somewhat different. Death is messy. Death is painful. Death is life changing. Death is total, complete and final separation. It hurts.

One of the most gut wrenching moments of my ministry came at a funeral for a 22 year old lad, and as his coffin was carried into the Crematorium Chapel the cry of his mother was the most heartbreaking sound I’ve ever heard. Where was Jesus to touch his coffin? To bring him back to life? To restore him to his family? I don’t have the answer to that question. I often feel a fraud.

But this story provides tremendous consolation, tremendous hope, tremendous understanding. A story often overlooked in the gospel narrative, a story overshadowed by the story of Lazarus in John 11. This story is so simple. No explanation, no dispensing of theology or belief or rationalisation. Just these wonderful words:

They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them.
(Luke 7:16 The Message)

Death is a holy mystery. Life is a holy mystery. But we can be quite sure that God is at work in us, around us, about us. We are held in the palm of his hand. He is the good shepherd, the loving, living God. Trust. Believe.

Oh yes. A football. It would need quite a big hole in the ground. But I think I’d like to be buried in a football-shaped coffin!

Happy days


About Neil Chappell

Husband, father, Congregational Minister and football fan all rolled into one convenient package.
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