Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct 06776
|Rev. Michael Moran
|Write to Rev. Moran
Sermon: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard
Matthew 28:1- 10, 16 - 20
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene
and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great
earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and
rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and
his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like
But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are
looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been
raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and
tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is
going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his
disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to
him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do
not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had
directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has
been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and
teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I
am with you always, to the end of the age."
John 14:1- 6a, 18 - 20, 25 - 27
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In
my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I
have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare
a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that
where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where
I am going."
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we
know the way?"
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the
world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also
will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me,
and I in you.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the
Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach
you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I
leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world
gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
This being Memorial Day Weekend and Book of Remembrance Sunday in our
church, I'd like to take a look at some of the different facets of
remembrance, starting first at the personal level.
This past Tuesday the New York Times had on its front page the announcement
of the death of Stephen Jay Gould, whom they described as "the evolutionary
theorist at Harvard University whose research, lectures, and prolific output
of essays helped to reinvigorate the field of paleontology; One of the most
influential evolutionary biologists of the 20th century and perhaps the best
known since Charles Darwin, Dr. Gould touched off numerous debates, forcing
scientists to rethink sometimes entrenched ideas about evolutionary patterns
In his article and obituary there were many remembrances of his love of
research, of teaching, of writing and of the New York Yankees. Over the
years he had influenced so many students and readers, made such an impact on
the world around him.
But I think it speaks to the nature of personal remembrances that the most
touching recollection came only days later in a letter to the editor:
To the Editor:
You perfectly described Stephen Jay Gould's humanity and his powerful
knowledge. I knew him when we were growing up in Queens. He was the only
babysitter I ever had. Can you imagine having Stephen Jay Gould as a
No sitting in front of the TV for him! I would never say a word but just
watch in rapt silence as he transformed a quiet evening into an adventure!
He made block towers that went to the ceiling. He fashioned vehicles out of
everyday materials. He described amazing creatures to me.
I never forgot those illuminating hours in our little apartment in Fresh
Meadows. His mind was insatiable, and his warmth and sparkle were
JAN JOHNSEN, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., May 21, 2002
Each of us has such a wealth of memories of those who touched our lives - as
family, friends, teachers, babysitters, neighbors, classmates and
colleagues: it is a private treasure trove of experiences through which God
mediates his graceful love and care. These are our personal memories that
shape our character and give us strength.
Of course, not all memories are personal and private. Some are very public,
and often form around events that shape the psychology of a generation.
For my children there is little doubt that the events of 9/11 will be just
that kind of shared memory. "Where were you when you heard the news?" they
will ask one another.
For my generation it might be March 29, 1973, when the last American troops
left Vietnam; Or April 4, 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed; or
November 22, 1963, when Walter Cronkite interrupted As The World Turns, at
1:40 p.m. EST to announce that in Texas, "three shots were fired at
President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that
President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."
The character of my parents' generation was forever shaped by December 7,
1941, a date which will live in infamy. Actually, my parents lived long
lives, and from their high school years they always remembered the 11th hour
of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the end of World War I.
And in the years of my parents' youth, they lived among an older generation
who would never forget April 15, 1865, and the days that followed the death
of President Lincoln when his body was carried in a funeral train through
Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland,
Columbus, Indianapolis and Chicago to his burial at Springfield, Illinois on
The events of those days were remembered by Walt Whitman in his famous poem
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd. For Whitman all the wonderful
sights of heaven and the familiar aromas of earth in spring were transformed
by the memory of that awful time.
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
O powerful fallen western star!
O shades of night - O moody tearful night!
O great star disappear'd - O the black murk that hides the star!
In the dooryard fronting an old farm- house near the white-washed palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green.
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle - and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green.
A sprig with its flower I break.
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop'd flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as the crape-veil'd women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared
heads, With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour'd around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs - where amid these you
With the tolling tolling bells perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes, I give you my sprig of lilac.
For my parents' generation Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day,
and it was marked by processions of school children bearing sprigs of lilac
and flowers to the cemetery to decorate the graves of the Civil War
veterans. A civil holiday like that, or a religious observance like our
Book of Remembrance, opens for us yet another facet of how remembering
shapes our lives and character.
Today we combine both private and public memory to remind ourselves of the
great inheritance of faith, courage, selflessness, and sacrifice that is the
true foundation of our peace and prosperity. Not in the material sense - or
as our Lord said, as the world gives - but in the spiritual sense, the peace
that gives strength and hope to the troubled heart, the peace that passes
What we do in remembrance is give birth to appreciation, and from
appreciation to draw hope, strength, and commitment. We have been given a
great gift - personally in the names that are remembered in our Book of
Remembrance, and collectively in the lives of those famous and unknown souls
who struggled and suffered and died to defend our liberty from tyranny and
God has blessed us with these lives, and through the life, death, and
resurrection of his Son, God has blessed us with the promise that a place of
peace has been prepared for all the faithful departed and all who gave their
lives that others might live. Our memories of their love and sacrifice are
a gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift that will blossom like the lilac in spring
when that day comes and we will all be together again in the Kingdom that
has no end. Amen.
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