Rev. Scott's Letter, March 31 - Number Two
Delivered By
Rev. Tom Scott
Delivered On
March 31, 2020
Attached Document
march_31_number_two.pdf
Description

 

MARCH 31 NUMBER TWO

Not all of the people we commemorate on the Anglican calendar are saints in the customary sense. We do not attribute any miracles to John Donne, priest, whom we give thanks for today, March 31st.

Donne wrote some of the most famous love poems we have in English. He wrote in a manner we do not now find very congenial, so he is not often quoted. But he was a master of his craft. He had not only a rapier wit, he possessed a gentle and careful regard for true affection and faithfulness. As a result, he brought enormous humanity to his later, more obviously Christian works--particularly his sermons.

You can get an excellent introduction to Donne's life and work. through Wikipedia and www.poetryfoundation.org.

One of his best known poems is entitled "Death, be not proud", Holy Sonnet #10. It has its own resonance for us these days.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor death; nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

We might say it more bluntly: death, you ain't so tough. You think you win when you gather us from this life, but you don't in the end. Besides, we're not afraid of you because we already know what it is to fall asleep, and the truth is, those who die are free from suffering and are delivered to God. Not only that, but you don't actually run things, you're a slave to myriad masters--so you have nothing to brag about. And finally, at the last day, the irony is that we know that death itself will be no more--we will see you die.

Donne loved to pun--I mentioned this literary device (paronomasia) a couple of days ago, you may recall, when I wrote about Bible jokes. Donne did it with such skill that a careful reader of his work will find them everywhere.

We have a famous example of Donne's punning in our hymnal, #141, (A Hymn to God the Father). We should be careful to understand that he is not trying to make jokes, but rather working to hold himself accountable for who he is. He is wrestling with God and himself about his own sinful nature--and his long years of acting on his impulses (especially sexual)--and the struggle centers around his deep self-understanding and the overwhelming truth of the boundless mercy and grace of God. We might picture Donne imagining himself before the judgment seat and saying, in fear and shame, that he is a sinner in general but also a repeat offender who enjoyed it, and took others along. He is not really certain what the response will be, but he risks it because of his own ruthless honesty and self understanding. The poem ends with Donne resting on the promise that in Christ, God will accept him.

When you read the poem, add an extra 'n' to 'done' and see how hard Donne has worked to make a full accounting of himself.

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,

which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

and do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

I still have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won others to sin,

and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun a year of two,

but wallowed in a score?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son

Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;

And, having done that, thou hast done;

I fear no more.

**************

Almighty and most merciful God, kindle within us the fire of love, that by its cleansing flame we may be purged from all our sins and be made worthy to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

 
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