30 October 2022 – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Amen
Is it just me? Am I the only one who can’t hear this Gospel reading without lyrics from long ago leaping to mind? Does anybody know this song – from long ago / in a different time and place:
Zacchaeus was a wee, little man
And a week little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see…?
And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And he said: “Zacchaeus, you come down!”
For I’m going to your house today!
For I’m going to your house today!
Yes? No? Am I the only one who has a memory of that song?
Like this song, memories have been coming to be unbidden recently. Memory, remembering // it’s been a bit of a theme lately.
Maybe it’s the time of the year. The feelings that come along with the shifting of the seasons, the falling of the leaves, the bittersweetness – at least for me – the bittersweetness of these last gorgeous days of fall before much colder weather blows in. The approaching end of the church calendar year / and the secular calendar year. Memory is present.
Maybe it’s the time of year. Or maybe it’s the activities that we’ve been involved in here at All Saints. Just last weekend we hosted the first of a new program for the youngest in our parish: My Grown-up and Me Eucharist. The theme of that first morning was Eucharist – “do this to remember me.” Or speaking with a family preparing for a funeral, talking with younger family members about how a funeral offers an opportunity for us to remember our loved one who has died. And this afternoon, a group from the Daughters of the King will be setting up the Altar of Remembrance over in the Resting Chapel as part of our observance of All Saints Day next Sunday.
Both with the season and with many of the activities going on around All Saints, memory and memories are very alive for me right now. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that the memory of this song dominates my initial response to today’s Gospel.
But unlike the lyrics to a children’s tune, memory – history – is complicated. We like to tell ourselves a coherent story. We like to simplify, to avoid dissonance. It’s the way we make sense of the world. But in that simplification, important parts of who we are get lost. For example, this week I read an article in the Washington Post about an African burial ground in Richmond, VA [Source] – thought to be the largest in the U.S., even larger than the African burial ground in NY. Following the Civil War bit by bit, over time it slipped away. The adjacent cemeteries for “White Christians” and “Hebrews” continue to be protected and, as the article reported, “neatly kept,” even to this day. But the African burial ground had disappeared from memory. So much so that by 2013, when plans were being made to expand the highway that was built on top of the burial ground, the impact report suggested that “no historical resources would be damaged by the project.” The final resting place of an estimated 22,000 people had disappeared from memory.
But then a descendent of one of the formerly enslaved women buried there – a great, great, great, great granddaughter – stumbled across a thread of memory and, pulling that thread, found the cemetery – under a highway, and an intersection, and an overpass, and an abandoned gas station. Because it was easier to let those memories slip away than to grapple with the history they hold. Our brains tend to simplify, but history is complicated.
Here in our own diocese, many parishes are grappling with their history. In conversation with fellow clergy at our diocesan convention on Friday, a rector described his parish’s efforts to look beyond the simplified history of their past. In that historic parish – in a building connected to the founding history of our country – there are balconies where enslaved and free black people once sat when slavery was still legal in Massachusetts. He described evidence of earnings from the slave trade and from Caribbean sugar plantations that helped pay for the building and endowed the parish’s operations for generations into the future. It’s hard to hold at the same time the truth of slavery…in the very building where the lantern was waved to signal “one if by land and two if by sea.” That is a complicated history.
Here in our own parish, the Courageous Conversations group is gathering to explore All Saints’ connections with the indigenous people who were displaced from the land on which we now worship.
And yesterday, at our annual diocesan convention, an overwhelming majority of delegates voted to establish a diocesan slavery reparations fund of just over $11 million.
Personally, I don’t know what the right answer is. There is no one right answer. There are certainly no easy answers. People of great goodwill can and will disagree about an effective response to our complicated history. But this much is clear: harm has been done, harm continues to be done, and as the body of Christ – the broken body of Christ…. As the baptized who, each time we renew our baptismal vows, promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourself],” // we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,” [BCP, p. 305]. // We are called to remember, // to examine our participation in our complicated history, and to explore how we are called to help heal.
To quote from the diocesan reparations resolutions: “According to our Book of Common Prayer, the mission or purpose of the Church is ‘to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ’ (BCP, p. 855). At its core, reparations is about restoration of the Body.” [Source, p. H-26].
You see, “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” To remember all of us. Zacchaeus, the tax collector, / collaborator with an oppressive imperial regime, / the “rich man” who lived a life of relative comfort and wealth through the extortion of the meager earnings of fellow Jews. Even for Zacchaeus – perhaps, especially for Zacchaeus – The Son of Man came to find, to heal, to make whole.
And every Sunday morning – just as Jesus did with Zacchaeaus, // just as we did at the My Grown-up and Me Eucharist last weekend on the carpet in the children’s corner – every Sunday we gather around the table, we share a holy meal. We remember the teachings of Jesus. We remember that he came to seek and to save; to help us bring together all the parts of ourselves and our history. All of it. And in a mysterious way – together around this table – we, too, are healed.
And that is how the song of Zacchaeus ends:
Zacchaeus was a wee, little man
And a happy man was he.
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he
And a very happy man / was / he.