Faithlife Sermons

A Senseless Act of Beauty

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Lessons we can learn from the woman who broke the flask of perfume over Jesus’ head. This was a moment Jesus saw as special and he referred to her as doing a beautiful thing.

A SENSELESS ACT OF BEAUTY Given March 28, Vancouver * Our sermon discusses Mark 14-15, the story of Jesus emptying himself to death on a cross, prefigured by the woman who emptied the perfume in his anointing. Let's start with a story. Skilled author and writer Ian Morgan Cron described his interactions with a professor he idolized in school. * This pipe-smoking, Scotch-soaked academic had written some award-winning fiction during his career, and he took Ian and a few other lucky students out to see his writing cabin behind his New England home. * All his great works had been written there. Ian describes the scene: * In the cabin was...a chair, a plain table with an ancient typewriter on it, * a thesaurus, a picture of his dog Jack, and a decanter filled with an amber liquid. * A short stack of firewood sat next to the black stove. * He had worked in that cabin for fifty years. The students stood there in awe, trying to catch a glimpse of the keys this great literature was typed on. * At one point, an ambitious and clueless student loudly asked a question and broke the sacred moment. * The professor, in a cloud of pipe smoke, strode over to the student and said, with dreadful calm: "Sometimes it's wiser to reverence than to describe or explain." Ian goes on to talk about the faith he discovered in his early twenties. * He describes his frustration with the heady, bookish types that were always trying to argue the case for faith-to "describe or explain" God into logic tables and airtight deductive reasoning. * He said " was gruel to me. I didn't want to "describe and explain" God - with my human reasoning" * He said, "I wanted to be swept up in his glory." * "I didn't want to understand the Holy One; I wanted to be consumed in his oceanic love" Like the professor who told them not to comment, but just to stand in the sacred moment, Ian described his growing love for God as something beyond words. We can all think of these moments: SPECTACLES OF NATURE - seeing a beautiful sunrise if you are an early bird * Or if you prefer romantic evening view, how about a beautiful sunset. * The awe and reverence of a beautiful mountain scene * Witness the northern lights as they flash across the sky. I have some fond memories of this when I was a wilderness canoeing guide in the Boundary waters of Northern Minnesota and southern Ontario * Other moments that cause us to stand in awe at the POWER unleashed in nature. Words add nothing to what is seen. Growing up in the prairies I remember sitting outside at night watching the power overhead as the lightning lit up the skys. * Or if you were in Italy the last couple of months see this spectacle of the POWER unleased by a VOLCANO. * These are all sacred moments that cause you stand back in awe. Word cannot describe what is the eye sees. OTHER SACRED MOMENTS - may be meeting the LOVE OF YOUR LIFE, remembering that moment you first met your spouse, your first kiss, * seeing your CHILD BORN, seeing your tiny newborn child for the first time, hearing your son or daughter cry, or the look of curiosity as they opened their eyes. * It is at times and moments like that, where any other words spoken become a DISTRACTING NOISE. * Any COMMENTARY OR WORDS we might blurt out at such a moment seems to TARNISH IT-a distraction from the unspeakable HOLINESS of what's happening. We pick up one of these accounts found in Mark 14:3 MK 14:3 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. (ESV) * Our reading today gives us such a moment. * This woman, without a word that we have recorded, and basically out of thin air, appears and anoints Jesus. * The perfume fills the room, so strong it stings their eyes, and there are no words for that moment. We are coming up toward Jesus' crucifixion and death-called his "Passion" in many church traditions. * Most of the Gospels describe the life of Jesus in the first two-thirds or so of the writing, and then spend the entire last third on the last week of his earthly life. * They grind down to a crawl for the last moments, and not a word is out of place. Mark sets this story in what some commentators call a "Markan sandwich." * Two stories are set to either side of another story so that the three of them comment on each other. * On ONE SIDE of this story we have the plot to kill Jesus forming. * The Pharisees and other leaders discuss what might be the best moment to do away with this challenging Messiah figure. * On the OTHER SIDE of the story, Judas goes to the halls of power to strike his infamous deal to betray Jesus. So on either side of this WOMAN'S EMOTIONAL, INTUITIVE, GORGEOUS MOMENT we have the calculating machinations of those trying to keep power and or gain power. * We have men, the only gender taken seriously at that time in history, entirely missing the point of what is going on. * In the middle of it all comes this unnamed woman who performs this act of beauty-the only fitting response to Jesus. * All the Gospels contain a version of this story, some of them with more description of the woman. * We don't know if this happened more than once or if the Gospel writers saw the story differently. * But for today we are going to zero in on the way Mark tells it. Jesus had an amazing ability to stop everything when something mattered the most-to call the loud music of the story to an absolute halt in a moment. * He spins around and says, "WHO TOUCHED ME?" when the woman touches the hem of his garment. * He accepts the absurd offering of a SIMPLE LUNCH from a boy, which he then multiplies to feed thousands. * He stops everything to let children crawl all over him even though the public is waiting. (LET THE LITTLE CHILDREN COME TO ME) * Here he stops as this mysterious woman comes out of nowhere to dump a YEAR'S WORTH OF WAGES on his head. Are we willing we stop like that? * Do we know how to stop and listen in the business of the day to listen to a child tell a pointless story? * To be present with an elderly person who has trouble hearing? * To ask our spouse about their day before immediately talking about our own? * These are small things; they are sacred things. MK 14:3 3 ... she broke the flask and poured it over his head. (ESV) * She broke the flask itself, meaning it would be used all in that moment. * There wasn't going to be anything left, just the oil and the smell hanging in the air for that moment until the wind blew it away. Have you ever tried to re-cork a bottle of champagne? * If you can even find the cork after it flies through the room, it's expanded so much that it can't fit back into the bottle. * And that's the idea. Champagne, expensive $300 a bottle champagne, is meant to be consumed entirely when it's opened. * You want to be sure the occasion calls for it, because there's no going back. * Leaving it till tomorrow will result in it going flat. I would like to jump ahead a few verses to Jesus' response to the situation. He says: MK 14:6 6 But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? SHE HAS DONE A BEAUTIFUL THING TO ME. (ESV) * Even this phrase sticks out like the exchange itself. * A beautiful thing. * Beauty is one of those anomalies in life-we can all recognize it, we all have a certain thirst for it, and yet it serves no "purpose." * Beauty doesn't get us prey or defend us from predators, it serves no advantage. * Yet it's part of being human, and a part that those who don't believe in God can never quite explain away. BEAUTY IS: * this moment that breaks this context, * that skips the needle out of the groove and * kicks the story off its rails. * Out of nowhere, there's this woman; out of nowhere, there's this sudden extravagance. DO WE WORSHIP LIKE THIS? * Do we pour out all we have before Jesus-our hearts and souls? * Even when it might make other people, even ourselves, uncomfortable? C.S. Lewis, in "Letters to an American Lady," writes: The precious alabaster box which one must break over the Holy Feet is one's heart. Easier said than done. And the contents become perfume only when it is broken. While they are safe inside they are more like sewage. And that is the story here. * While Judas is guarding whatever agenda he had, and lining his pockets, his soul is being lost. * While the leaders plot and scheme to keep their power, their souls go bad. * Only this woman, unnamed and almost irrational, gets it. * And the perfume only becomes perfume when it's outside of the bottle it came in. * The disciples are also on an adventure in MISSING THE POINT as we read in verses 4-5: MK 14:4-5 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." And they scolded her. (ESV) They are just coming up on Passover, which was a central festival to the Jewish faith. * During that time, giving to the poor would have increased-it was the thing to do at Passover. * Especially as many had to travel in to Jerusalem from far away and had very little money, as emergencies may pop up. This also seems like they are starting to understand-or at least think they understand-what Jesus was about. * He served the poor, and he called them to always remember the poor. * They are stepping in to say they get what Jesus is up to, and this is how he'd want it. * They even go so far as to give the exact amount-300 denarii, which is roughly a year's wages. * Your talking about a lot of money poured on Jesus, the average annual wage in British Columbia is $63,000 - all gone is 2 seconds. * And here is where they miss the point. As Jesus goes on in verses 6-8 MK 14:6-8 6 But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. (ESV) Yes, serving the poor is vital to what it means to bring in the kingdom. * We are to hold up the broken, we are to speak for those who are voiceless, we are to work hard to see equality and justice in the world. * But that's not the entire picture. In that context as well, * the prophets and sages would have called them back to obedience. * To serve the poor and bring God's love to the broken, isn't that what Jesus wants done? * Again, that's not the entire picture. That's a much more pleasant picture, especially in our modern scientific times. * Jesus as the great moral example, the social reformer-note all these strange controversial questions of him dying and rising, of him being somehow God and somehow human at the same time. * And Jesus' answer doesn't let them-or us-go in that direction. * Yes, the kingdom is all about changing society and healing the broken, but we can't separate that from Jesus, the son of God and son of a woman, the King of the universe. * The disciples jumping to talk about the "practical" uses for that money is a bit like the freshman jumping at the professor to ask his question-"sometimes it's wiser to take a moment of reverence rather than try and explain or describe that special moment." THAT MOMENT WAS SACRED, SPECIAL AS JESUS SAID "SHE HAS DONE A BEAUTIFUL THING. * The story is beautiful and strange and beyond our tiny words and tiny minds to wrap itself around. * Do you describe a summer night studded with stars by bringing out a graph and calculator? * Do you stop the London symphony so you can whistle a tune? * Do you doodle on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel? Never! All you can do in those moments is wonder. * And that's what this unnamed woman gets in this moment. * She didn't have a theology degree; * she didn't understand all the ins and outs of what Jesus was up to. * She just knew she needed to abandon herself in that moment and let her heart pour out in front of him. MK 14:8 8 ... she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. (ESV) * Such a beautiful connection! * Maybe she and Jesus both made sense of this at the same moment. * This moment fit into the story somehow, but it's not fully articulated until right then. * She anoints Jesus's body, but he's not dead yet. * For one, he will die as a tortured criminal and there won't be the time and space to anoint him. * But the other reality is that his body simply won't be there when the ladies come to anoint him later on. MK 14:9 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." (ESV) And the story closes. * The unnamed woman will have her story told over and over when the gospel is preached. * And that has come true, of course. * A character without even a name, at least in Mark's telling, is always mentioned as part of the story. Because she stopped everything for a moment. * She brought everyone out of the worry, suspicion, anxiety of the moment to see the larger picture, even unknowingly. * Jesus isn't just a social reformer or another prophet to scold Israel. * Rather, he's the ULTIMATE END of all of this, the GRAND CONCLUSION of the human story itself. * And the only proper reaction to that is WORDLESS, NAMELESS WORSHIP. So what do we take home from this nameless lady with the oily shards around her feet, surrounded by a roomful of confused people? * It's risky and tarnishing to do too much commentary, * But we can take home a few ideas. 1. ABANDONED * She has a great abandon in her worship. * She lets herself go and "has done what she could" (verse 8). * Do WE have abandon in the WAY WE WORSHIP and in the way we FOLLOW Christ? * Do we break the jar and POUR IT ALL OUT TO HIM * our worries, our fears, our struggles, our anxieties * our needs, our wants * our dreams, our desires, our goals * our joys, our special moments, * our pain? Our health issues, our aging bodies, our human frailties * Jesus WANTS OUR ALL. * What are we holding back? 2. BEAUTY * Do we see the beauty in this "unnecessary" moment, as the disciples call it, this "waste." * Can WE see the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional beauty of life that Jesus wants us to see? * Only IN HIM can we truly hold life with an open hand to LET IT'S BEAUTY BLOOM. 3. RECOGNIZING JESUS - Notice what Jesus said "THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU, YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS HAVE ME." * Yes, Jesus was a great REFORMER of society, a PROPHET, a great HIGH PRIEST, a great FRIEND and a dynamic LEADER, but he was something more. * Let's not forget that in our modern efforts to make the gospel therapeutic or inspirational or comforting. * It is all those things, but it is also the utterly strange and wild story of God coming to earth in the GUISE of a first-century PEASANT who spoke with an accent and DIED LIKE A CRIMINAL. * He then came back in the even stranger story of a RESURRECTED body that APPEARED and DISAPPEARED between worlds, and he reversed death itself. * It is indeed, a strange and beautiful story, and it's the only one that works. So, this Sunday is Liturgy of the Passion Sunday. * It's often accompanied by the longer reading from Mark of some of the last parts of Jesus's life. * My wife will now read that passage found in, Mark 14:1-15:47, * We will read it without commentary or response. * But simply read it and listen in sacred silence to this amazing story that makes all other stories make sense. * Let's hold this beautiful moment together. Mk 14:1-72 THE PLOT TO KILL JESUS It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people." JESUS ANOINTED AT BETHANY 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor." And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." JUDAS TO BETRAY JESUS 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. THE PASSOVER AND THE DISCIPLES 12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?" 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us." 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. 17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, "Is it I?" 20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." INSTITUTION OF THE LORD'S SUPPER 22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, "This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." JESUS FORTELLS PETER'S DENIAL 26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." 29 Peter said to him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not." 30 And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." 31 But he said emphatically, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you." And they all said the same. JESUS PRAYS IN GETHSEMANE 32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch."[d] 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." BETRAYAL AND ARREST OF JESUS 43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard." 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant[e] of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled." 50 And they all left him and fled. A YOUNG MAN FLEES 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. JESUS BEFORE THE COUNCIL 53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council[f] were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"[g] 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" 62 And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, "What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?" And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" And the guards received him with blows. PETER DENIES JESUS 66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus." 68 But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you mean." And he went out into the gateway[h] and the rooster crowed.[i] 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know this man of whom you speak." 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, "Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.[j] MK 15:1-47 JESUS DELIVERED TO PILATE 15 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him, "You have said so." 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, "Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you." 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. PILATE DELIVERS JESUS TO BE CRUCIFIED 6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" 13 And they cried out again, "Crucify him." 14 And Pilate said to them, "Why? What evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged[a] Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. JESUS IS MOCKED 16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters),[b] and they called together the whole battalion.[c] 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. THE CRUCIFIXION 21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour[d] when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.[e] 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. THE DEATH OF JESUS 33 And when the sixth hour[f] had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.[g] 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Elijah." 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he[h] breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son[i] of God!" 40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. JESUS IS BURIED 42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died.[j] And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph[k] bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. Close simply with "Amen" or a closing song. \
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