“What Does All This Mean?”

John 11:1-45

Good morning to you, wherever you are.

You have just heard our long, well-known and beautiful Gospel reading from John about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Hold that story in you mind as I read you today’s poem by Padraig O’ Tuama, an Irish poet and theologian, entitled “Staring Match”, because I want to suggest a lesson in both that is particularly timely as we deal with this strange disruption in our lives brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic of today.

Staring Match
I stare at the icon
the sacrament and
the sacred story.

I stare at the window
the bread and the
familiar words.

With only myself to blame
I repeat the questions that
restrain me:

What is all this for? and:
What will all this bring? and:
What should I do now?

And then there’s that
great silence
that greets me.

So I try to greet it
with a liturgy for the morning
a little vitamin, hoping that

opening the day with rhythm
might calm the encounter
with the selves I ignore.

Might help a life be lived
more generously.
Might help the eye see inside the icon.

Might help the story sound.
Might help the bread be found
by the place that’s hungry.

For both the poem and biblical story we must surely ask ourselves:

“What does it all mean?”

What is the mystical and prophetic Gospel of John telling us with this amazing story of a dead man brought back to life by Jesus?

And what is O’ Tuama trying to explain with this ‘Staring Match’ – a sort of stand-off between the nagging longing of our souls for meaning and solace as we busy ourselves in our daily routines, and the rather veiled rituals and symbols we have created over the years to try to explain and assuage these longings.

“What does it mean?”

“What is it for?”

And in modern pop phraseology:

“What’s it all about, Alfie?”

At least for me, the core truth in this long reading lies in the 25-26th verses:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

There are numerous indications that the Lazarus story is a parable – it is the only occurrence in all of the gospels of this amazing story, and the only mention of Mary & Martha, well-known friends of Jesus, of having a brother. Jesus visited Mary and Martha often, and they appear in all the other gospels, but NEVER is a brother mentioned. Surely, if Jesus had raised a real person, who had been dead for 4 days to life again – and in front of a crowd of people made of synagogue Jews who saw Jesus as a threat – such an event surely would have appeared in every gospel.

So for this and other reasons, this story is surely meant to bring home to all that the way of Jesus is the way to eternal life – to follow the Christ is to never die! And if we can accept that meaning of this story, it is ‘good news’ indeed.

Our work is to ask:

“What does it mean for me?”

How shall I shape my life in light of this ‘good news’? It seems to me that O’ Tuama’s poem catches that moment we all surely feel: amidst the brushing of teeth, the making of coffee, opening the mail, putting on the socks –

“What is this life for?”

“What is MY life for?”

How do the bread and wine, the water and liturgy, the creeds and confessions, the Bible stories and theologies – how do they help ME make meaning of it all?

And now here we are – caught in the middle of a ‘war with an invisible enemy’; all our technology and riches have now been ground to a halt by a sub-microscopic villain. We do not understand, we cannot control it, and we know how ‘to fight the fight’ only by isolating ourselves from one another! And it is the same for all, world-wide – young and old, rich and poor, wise and foolish – it is, in fact, a ‘Great Leveler’ with power to harm and to kill, regardless of where or who we are!

“What is all this for?”

“What will all this bring?”

“What should I do now?”


There are many possible answers which we will discuss for decades to come, but we can hope it brings an understanding that (as a banner on medical supplies to Ohio from China said) ‘we are truly all in this together’ – Arab and Jew, Christian and Muslim, the one percent and the homeless beggar, black, brown, yellow, white – we are on this same planet together. Not just one nation under God, but one humanity under our Creator, and we will survive only if we love and care for one another.

We may hope it is for reminding us that we are not in charge, and that we must care for and nourish our planet and all the life on it – that we must live with and learn from nature, as well as live with and learn from one another if we are to survive.

Most of all, perhaps it means, that the only way to live well now and for all eternity is to realize that the life example, the teachings, and the sacrifices of Jesus of Nazareth, of Jesus the man, and Jesus Christ the Son of Creation – to follow these, is the way that gives meaning to everything, to every event of our lives and to every breath we take.

Fear of one another – grasping for power and control and earthly riches will kill us for sure. Love of every living creature and doing to others as we would do for ourselves – this will save us now and forever.

Let us pray:

May we, who are merely inconvenienced, remember those whose lives are at stake. May we, who have no risk factors, remember those most vulnerable. May we, who have the luxury of working from home, remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. May we, who have the flexibility to care for our own children when their schools close, remember those who have no options. May we, who have to cancel our trips, remember those who have no safe place to go. May we, who settle in for a quarantine at home, remember those who have no home. As fear grips our country, let us choose to love. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around one another, Let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.[1]
[1] Adapted from “Prayer for a Pandemic”, +The God Life, Steven Jay Davis;

Rev deniray mueller, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church and University Center, Columbus, OH; 29 March 2020

In Memory of Barbara Ann Bryant Havens

Today we come to celebrate the life of Barbara Ann Bryant Havens, a beloved mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, and a dear friend to too many people to count. Although she is no longer with us, her memory will live on in our hearts for eternity. We feel your lively and beautiful spirit with us today, and we hope you sense our love for you in this room. We not only love you, but have learned much from you, been inspired by you, and been made to laugh and be joyful in your presence! We will always remember you!

In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember you
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of Winter, we remember you
In the opening buds and in the rebirth of Spring, we remember you
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of Summer, we remember you
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of Autumn, we remember you
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember you
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember you
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember you
When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember you
So long as we live, you too shall live, for you are now a part of us,
as we remember you.[1]

Each of us will carry in our hearts those special moments that will help us remember Barbara.

My wife, Karen, and I are fortunate to live on the same floor with Barbara for almost five years; I remember the day we moved in, there she came rolling down the hall to welcome us to the floor.

That was so Barbara!

Exuberantly extending her hands and heart to everyone she met. That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship, . . conversations at her place and dinners at ours; we will always remember, and miss her terribly.

We come together today from the diversity of our grieving,
to gather in the warmth of this community,
giving stubborn witness to our belief that
in times of sadness, there is room for laughter.
In times of darkness, there always will be light.
May we hold fast to the conviction
that what we do with our lives matters.

John and Parker feel the loss of a mother, Betty a daughter, Beau and Nola and Willow a beloved grandmother; we all feel their pain. To Parker and John, we ask ‘how do we let a mother go?’

How do we let a mother go?
How do we say “I’m ready now to go on without you”?
How can we ever have a clue of what that really means?
And all of a sudden, the moment is upon us, and there’s no turning back.

And then we know what grief is, . . .
and guilt
and love
and things undone.

But there is peace too. Peace and acceptance and overwhelming love that we maybe weren’t aware of, waves and waves of conflicting emotion,
And laughter too,
and memories we hadn’t bothered lately to recall come flooding back in shared company.

. . and it is all about you, Barbara!

And there’s gratitude. . .
so much of that, that we had you, such a wonderful mother…
Bright and shining, nobody’s fool, independent, but humble too;
Smart, and kind, and fun.


A part of you has passed away, but much is carried everyday within us, and will as long as we are here.

This may be a final tribute,
A day to celebrate your life and say goodbyes;
But it is not final![2]

Your children, grandchildren, and friends will keep your memory, and that zest for life you taught them and us. When met with difficulties and challenges, we will all simply ask, “what did Barbara do”? and we will gain strength and courage from your example.

When kindness and generosity are lacking, we will be reminded of what Barbara did – even amidst pain and physical limitations – and we will try to be kinder, more generous, and more loving to each other.

Every day we’ll celebrate in some way, just by the virtue of how you shaped our lives,

The absolute and incredible fortune that we knew you.

As a mother, a friend and a woman.

We are told in an oft-heard scripture from Ecclesiastes:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

We are grateful that you have broken the bounds of your beautiful but weakened body,
that you feel pain no more,
and that your boundless energy has returned.

Barbara is now standing tall,

with that red hair flowing in the breeze,

lips bright red,

nails always perfectly polished in red,

and those brilliant red shoes,

ready to take on the universe in her own personal, and vibrant way.

Denny Fultz and Tom Queen, two of Barbara’s longtime friends, will share some memories, followed by John, speaking for the family.

In closing, I would like to read a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye, written in 1932, for a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with her and her husband. When Margaret’s mother fell ill and died, she was distraught that it was not safe to return to Germany. The heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear”. Frye found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said that the words “just came to her” and expressed what she felt about life and death. This reminds us that death is not all there is:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there.
I did not die.

Barbara, you have left us wiser, happier, and enriched – and we thank God for sending you to be our daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. And now in your honor and memory, we will go forth today in life – to do what you so fully lived – have a wonderful party and care for and love one another.

And so, although Barbara Bryant Havens no longer walks this earthly realm,

she is still with us, . . .

loving us, . . .

ever present in our hearts and minds.

To paraphrase Frank Sinatra’s famous song:





Let us pray:

We lift up those who have lost loved ones. We see images of families in celebration; but their emotions are far from happy. There are empty places in their hearts where loved ones have been called from life. We lift them up to you that you might give them strength to get through their mourning. We ask for your grace to comfort them in their time of need. We thank you for their faithfulness and fear, hope and doubt, sorrow and joy. Amen.
[1]      Adapted from Yom Kippur Service, Michelle Markert Rubin
[2]      Unknown source
The Rev deniray mueller, Schoedinger Northwest, Columbus, OH; 10 February 2018