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Message From Pastor Stier

posted Feb 24, 2013, 7:52 AM by Tracey Morris   [ updated Mar 26, 2016, 7:38 AM ]
A few weeks ago my wife Nancy and I went to a Saturday evening worship service at a Roman Catholic church near where we live. The church building was well over a hundred years old and was built in the traditional, ornate style. It was a beautiful sanctuary with an elaborate, huge altar in the center, a smaller altar on each side, and statues of Jesus, Peter, Paul, and several other apostles and saints positioned in various places on those altars. On one of the smaller statues off to the side was what appeared to be a monk, and in his hand he held a human skull. After the service, Nancy asked me about that. “Did you see the statue with the man holding the skull? What was that all about?,” she asked.

I told her I did not know who the monk was, but I thought that the skull might be a ‘memento mori.’ Memento mori is a Latin phrase which means “remember your mortality,” or, “remember you must die.” The term came to refer to a type of artwork that serves to remind people of their mortality. It might be a painting of the Grim Reaper at the bed of one dying, it might be a carving of a skull kept on one’s desk, or it might be a skull shaped ring, pendant, or clock. This style of art goes way back to antiquity, and it reached its greatest popularity in the Middle Ages, present at that time in many churches and even homes. The intent of the memento mori was very different from the cartoon-type skeletons we see all over the place at Halloween time. The old memento mori served as an ever present reminder of approaching death and judgment.

So that skull high upon that altar in the front of that church has a message for all who see it. “This skull,” it means to say, “was once a living, breathing, speaking human being, but now that person is dead and all that is left of him is this skull. Pay attention, therefore, to what you hear in this sanctuary, because someday soon that is what you will be, and when that time comes your only hope will be in Jesus Christ who is worshipped here. So listen close, and do not disregard or disrespect what is spoken in this place.”

Three weeks ago we began the Lenten Season with another sort of memento mori, another ‘reminder of death.’ At our Ash Wednesday services, we had ashes put on our foreheads and heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and unto the dust you shall return.” This is a most unpleasant thought to be sure, but it is a most necessary reminder. The biggest mistake in my life would be to forget that fact, and in forgetting, not make the necessary preparation for that inevitable end. But if you come to church, you will hear a more hopeful message, and if you keep coming, you will give that hope the opportunity to sink in and take hold in your heart and mind, giving you courage and confidence even in the face of death.

Lent moves toward Easter Sunday, and on that day we hear the words of the angel in the tomb to those looking for Jesus. “He is not here,” they said, “HE IS RISEN!” And so as we continue through this Lenten Season by all means remember that you will die (‘memento mori’), but then also remember the words of Jesus to you in John 14:19, “Because I live, you also will live.”

--Pastor Leon