The Private Intellectual
Ecclesiastes-Based Real Estate Advice

Saturday, April 04, 2015  

God’s Loneliness 
Rev. Ben Dueholm
The Vigil of Easter 
April 4, 2015
Church of the Holy Apostles (with Messiah Lutheran Church), Wauconda.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sisters and brothers grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Then God walked around,  
And God looked around  
On all that He had made.  
He looked at His sun,  
And He looked at His moon, 
And He looked at His little stars;  
He looked on His world  
With all its living things,
And God said, “I’m lonely still.”  
Then God sat down 
On the side of a hill where He could think;  
By a deep, wide river He sat 
With His head in His hands,  
God thought and thought,  
Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man!” 

Up from the bed of the river  
God scooped the clay;  
And by the bank of the river 
He kneeled Him down;  
And there the great God Almighty 
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,  
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,  
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;  
This Great God,  
Like a mammy bending over her baby,  
Kneeled down in the dust  
Toiling over a lump of clay  

Till He shaped it in His own image;    

Then into it He blew the breath of life, 
And man became a living soul.  Amen.

God was lonely, James Weldon Johnson tells us, so he made a world; and after making a beautiful world he was still lonely, so he made people. The theologians have insisted that this is not possible, but let’s ignore them for a moment—they are used to it!—and imagine this lonely God. 

God sits, God holds his head in his hands, and thinks. And then decides to make human beings. God’s hands plunge into the clay of the fresh earth, and this God who made heaven and earth with instant ease takes care, takes time, bends lovingly over the clay like a mammy over her baby. As a mother broods over her child, as a child clings to her favorite stuffed animal, so God would share the world with someone. With someone who can love God, speak to God, hear God, shape the world with God. 

And tonight we hear the best and the worst that this lump of clay is capable of. People can love God’s Wisdom and delight in her play, or they can shun Wisdom and love death instead. People can make each other into slaves or they can sing songs of freedom. These animated lumps of clay can reduce each other to dry bones in a dead valley, or they can imagine new life. They can share water and bread and milk and wine without cost, or they can fight each other for every last scrap. 

Yet in the midst of it all, there’s God—the God whose loneliness was so great and so deep that only human beings could answer it. God planting the world in love; God saving the righteous through the flood; God hearing the cries of the enslaved and oppressed; God giving life to the dead bones; God declaring a feast for everyone, all his adorable, beloved lumps of clay. 

I am struck tonight, hearing these words of James Weldon Johnson, how deeply it must grieve God that we love death so. It must grieve God deeply that we make death together, for ourselves and for each other. It must grieve God to know that each miraculous living soul of us is so fragile and so ready to dissolve in an instant. All of us made for love, for companionship; all of us more than capable of lunging toward destruction. 

Mary Magdalene, and Mary, and Salome come as part of this story. They have witnessed what seems to be another tragic moment in this long war of clay against clay, this long expulsion of the image of God from God’s prized creation. They have seen their friend and Lord, Jesus the prophet and healer, put to death on a cross. They stayed and watched, while the men of their group betrayed Jesus, or denied him, or simply fled. And in the morning, after the Sabbath, they come to do their last measure of devotion, the respect that dust and clay give to each other. They will thrust their hands into the soft ointment and, like a mammy bending over her baby, they will anoint Jesus’s lifeless clay for its final return to the earth from which it comes. 

There’s nothing special about it. It’s been happening for thousands of years and will happen for thousands more. Their tears are probably more bitter than most, their new loneliness is more shocked and painful than it is for many who take on their task. But it’s just another part of life. It’s a beautiful thing, this idea that we love the vacant earth that our friends leave behind so dearly that we’ll tend to it with this much care. It’s a kind of nobility in defeat. Yes, all the clay will slip back into the river and God will be lonely again someday, even more lonely than we are now but until then we will have done our best. All we need is our love, our spices, and someone to help us roll away the stone.

But when they come to do this last kindness to their friend’s corpse, there is no corpse. There is no stone. There is no death. There is no ache in God’s heart. There is no sorrow, but only the dawn of triumph, and the herald of new life. There is no last measure of devotion, but the first fruits of a great and unending harvest. Behind this one stone, out from this one grave, the whole earth of clay will someday rush in a great, eternal, mighty stream—living souls, dead through sin but called back to life, naked bones knit back together for freedom’s march, bodies impoverished by greed and warfare but given milk and honey and bread without cost—all lifted up so that God would never be lonely again. This Great God, like a mammy bending over her baby, kneeling down in the dust, toiling over a lump of clay til he shaped it, again, in his own image, and blew into it, anew, the breath of life, and man, and woman, and righteous and sinner, and faithful and doubting became again a living-and-undying soul. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen and amen.  

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 2:38 PM
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