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Hallo again to all.

There is worry of a new plague abroad. There is deep concern about the state of Iraq. There is anxiety about North Korea and its precarious politics. There is always hunger and sickness in the world and people in our own cities live wretchedly. So why did we recently fret about the state of an old tomb in a churchyard? Carved in the mid-19th century of red sandstone, it has not suffered the years well, and there is decay of this bit of lettering and that bit of ornamentation. We held a few inches of sandstone in our hand as we wandered round the astonishingly beautiful garden for the dead and wondered how we could concern ourselves with the repair of crumbling stone rather than the needs of the living.

Yet there it is: we felt something ineffably moving about the churchyard and a protective desire to care for it, to make it last. In the scheme of things, the living should come first: 'pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living', a friend's sig line has it. But humans, across almost all societies, have honoured the dead; sought resting places of peace and beauty for their loved ones. We're still shocked when we hear about the mistreatment of dead bodies, desecration of graves, or anonymous mass graves. Such things seem, well, inhuman.

In England many ancient parish churches are surrounded by churchyards holding the parish dead, and what better vestibule for houses of prayer? It is rarer in other areas of the Anglican Communion for the dead to be so near the church in traditional graves, but in the States resting places for ashes, so called columbaria, are becoming common. Scripture has our history beginning in a garden, towards the east, in Eden, once upon a time, long ago. And in a garden Our Lord paired both the grave and the green on His resurrection day. There seems something right about the living and the dead in close physical conjunction as well as our usual spiritual conjunction that we call the Communion of Saints.

The dead and the living have been in close company in Baghdad. As many of you know, St George's Anglican Church, not used as a parish church since 1991 but still opened daily for prayer, is located next to the demolished State Radio and Television building and just one building from the Information Ministry. We worried with you about its fate, the only Anglican church building in that country. We're happy to say that the building is still standing, but apparently subject to some looting. Since there was very little to loot, it sounds as if St George's survived quite well in a city terribly scarred. Thanks be to God, and thanks for the prayers many of you sent up for its safety. Yes, it's just a building, but it's a tangible link to those Christians who died on the banks of the Tigris.

We are incarnate beings, and we need incarnate, tangible objects: a church, a gravestone, a lock of hair, a pressed flower, a handwritten letter, bread, wine. But we know those objects aren't everything. We can't stay inside church walls or brooding poetically in a churchyard forever, we can't spend our lives with the nouns (persons, places, things) in an attempt to avoid the verbs (to love, to care, to pray, to feed, to clothe). But the sweet holy places and dear holy things and the ordinary touchable things of human life have their claim on us, and we are right to honour that.

In these great 50 days of Eastertide, as an Anglican bishop once said: Eat gustily and drink heartily—then get out there to change the world.

See you next week.

Brian Reidís signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 27 April 2003

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