Last week my senior minister shared with me a sermon dated January 23, 1983 (Palm Sunday) written by William Sloane Coffin. The title of the sermon is "Alex's Death" and it comes on the heals of Rev. Coffin's son, Alex, tragic death in an automobile accident. While I believe the sermon is great on the whole and one should probably read the sermon in its entirety in order to 'get all the goodness out of it', I wanted to share some of the lines on this post which I though were examples of great use of language.
"My 24 year old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave."
"Among the healing flood of letters..." (It is provocative to me that he would use the image of a flood because from what I can tell in the sermon, Alex died by drowning. That Coffin would take this image and twist it a bit to accent Grace is quite profound.)
"love not only begets love, it transmits strength."
"The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is, "It is the will of God." Never do we know enough to say that."
"While words of the Bible are true, grief renders them unreal. The reality of grief is that absence of God - "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The reality of grief is the solitude of pain, the feeling that your heart's in pieces, your mind's blank and that "there's not a joy the world can give like that it takes away" (Lord Byron)"
"I felt some of my fellow reverends were using comforting words of Scripture for self protection, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness they simply couldn't face. But like God Herself, Scripture is not around for anyone's protection, just for everyone's unending support."
"When parents die, as did my mother last month, they take with them a large portion of the past. But when children die, they take away the future as well. That is what makes the valley of the shadow of death seem so incredibly dark and unending. In a prideful way it would be easier to walk the valley alone, nobly, head high, instead of - as we must - marching as the latest recruit in the world's army of the bereaved."
"interestingly enough, when I mourn Alex least I see him best."
"But it's a face: few of us are naturally profound; we have to be forced down."
"So I shall - so let us all - seek consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is."
It is my hope that I too might learn how to be profound, but it is my prayer that I do not have to do through what William Sloane Coffin had to in order to arrive there.