A Shroud Has No Pockets

Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Ash Wednesday is the day we remember our mortality. It makes us uncomfortable. Our mortality, our death, is not something we want to think about.

There are really only two important things that happen to us in our lives. Both are momentous occasions, and the cause of tears on the part of those nearest and dearest to us. One is birth. The other is death.

They both are vastly important, and everyone on Earth goes through them both.

They are rites of passage. One brings us into this world, one brings us to the next one. Today we remember our mortality.

As a sign of this we make the sign of the cross on everyone’s forehead; it is visible sign of a reality that confronts us all. We will all leave this place for another.

It’s ironic that it falls on Valentine’s Day this year.  But I think there may be a lesson here.

And, as the old folklore goes: a shroud has no pockets. That’s another way of saying: you can’t take any THING with you. All you bring with you is the love and compassion you learned here.

Let me tell you a story.

Several years ago, I was part of a small, struggling church in Arcadia, Florida. It was a poor town, with many people holding on by a thread. The congregation argued about theology, politics and sexuality. They found it difficult to find any common ground on anything with each other.

One Friday night, my family watched in horror as Hurricane Charley took an unexpected turn, and ripped its way through the center of Florida, and straight through Arcadia. Hurricane winds topped 110 miles per hour, and in the course of the storm, 17 tornadoes touched down all around the town.

We lived 50 miles away in Sarasota, and had to wait until the roads were open to go and check on parishioners.

Finally, they opened the road. It was a Saturday, and we made our way to Arcadia not knowing what to expect, but it was worse than we ever could have imagined. There was not one building that had not sustained damage. Electricity, phones, water and gas were not working, and the church’s roof had been blown off.

As it continued to pour, some men from the congregation left their own homes to help salvage as much of the church as they could. The altar and font were moved to the small parish hall–the original church— which was still standing, ironically.  They placed the bent cross gently on the altar—almost as an act of defiance.

The next morning we arrived at the church, not expecting many to show up because there was no power or water—and every parishioner had suffered damage to their homes.

Every single church member was there.

Forgotten were the endless quarrels and disagreements. As each person hugged each other with tears in their eyes they said, “It’s good to see you today.”

And they meant it.

The hurricane had done what reason and discussion could not: it showed the people of this tiny church what was really important: each other.

They became changed people.

As the service ended, parishioners from neighboring Episcopal rolled up in half a dozen cars full of food and water.

These grateful church members didn’t keep the food for themselves; they opened their doors and became a food pantry for the whole town.  They shared everything they had.

That church not only survived, it prospered.

These parishioners learned that the important thing wasn’t storing up their treasures on earth, THEIR treasure was in relationships, in their families, in giving food away, and they held nothing back.

Why will we shortly be marked with a cross made of ashes? To encourage us to fast from those attitudes and actions that drive a wedge between us and our fellow man, between us and God.

To encourage us to remember that a shroud has no pockets. We can’t take any THING with us. All we bring with us at the end, is the love and compassion we learned here.

It’s good to see you today. Amen.