Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Festival of the Christian Home/Family Week
Sunday, May 13, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
When my hānai father died on May 18, 1993 I returned to Kona to join my sister, three brothers and my mom for a memorial service that was held at Keauhou Bay. The bay has always been a part of our life as a family.
It was there that I learned to swim, clean and eat wana or sea urchins, and catch ÿupāpalu or cardinal fish at night. And it was there that we would return from time to time to place flowers on my tūtūor grandma’s grave.
The place is still there but it no longer looks the same. Gone are the old narrow winding roads replaced by wide streets, guardrails and traffic lights. The old beach houses with fishing nets have been replaced by hotels, condominiums, manicured golf courses, and a shopping center.
But tūtū’s grave remains, as do the memories I have of what was once a magical playground for me. My hānai father and my mother would always have stories to tell about what they remembered.
What I remember vividly about returning home to prepare for my hānai father’s memorial service was the decision we made to string lei made out of plumeria flowers. I was pleased that we were going to spend time together with five of the grandchildren away from the television and other numerous distractions.
The initial decision to string the lei was easily made. The question was: Where were we going to pick all of the flowers? My youngest brother said, “There’s lots of plumeria trees on the middle road down to the bay. It’s on state land and nobody’s gonna care if we pick the flowers.”
With that we loaded ourselves into three cars and headed south with plastic bags and cardboard boxes. When we arrived I was surprised to see a long line of plumeria trees filled with a profusion of countless red, yellow, maroon, pink, and white blossoms.
When we returned home we set to work. As I think back on that day I have a sense now that my mom was happy to see us together. My dad’s death was difficult for all of us but it was especially difficult for her. I know that she found some comfort in watching us as we sat together that one evening stringing the lei, talking story, and remembering dad, remembering grandpa.
I’ve been thinking about plumeria flowers and plumeria trees lately. I
suppose some of it has been prompted by my noticing that many of the
plumeria trees around Maui are now in full bloom.
Ironically as signs of new life seem to be bursting from the branches of plumeria trees across the island, the grasslands are beginning to die back and turn to a golden brown. But in time the grass will flourish again with the coming of the Makahiki rains in the Fall in the same way that the plumeria are now flourishing.
The season of Easter reminds us that out of death new life emerges. There is something about “starting all over again” that attracts our attention. Who among us has not thought about “starting all over again” whenever we experience loss in our lives - whether it is the loss of work, of health, of a relationship? Who among us has not thought about new beginnings?
Some say our reading from The Revelation of John is about such new beginnings. But if we look at and observe the plumeria trees and the grasslands around us, we would be more accurate to speak of renewal. And if we look at the losses we experience in our lives, there is always the hope of renewal.
We know that the Bible begins with creation in The Book of Genesis. But it ends with the re-creation that we find in The Revelation of John. (Seasons of the Spirit, Congregational Life, Lent, Easter, page 108).
The writer of the Revelation tells us of the new city Jerusalem “coming down” from heaven, the place of perfection and the most important point in the world for the early Jewish Christians. But the city’s population includes the “nations” (Revelation 21:24) and so the Gentile Christians are included.
This new heaven and new earth are not meant to completely replace the old. That would mean that history is ultimately discarded and unimportant to God. The vision of the writer is one of renewal.
If we look at The Revelation of John as literature, Biblical
scholars will say it is an example of apocalyptic literature. It
is literature meant to “disclose” or “unveil” or “reveal” what is to
What makes the literature difficult to comprehend is its assertion that, at present, all of human history is under the domination of the power of evil. What is troubling about The Revelation of John is its strong appeal to those who want to reduce the complexity of human history to an “uncomplicated struggle between good and evil” (“Apocalytic Literature,” The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991, page 362).
We see that happening in our world today. There are those believe we are living in the last days. There are those who seem eager to usher in the second coming of Christ.
The writer of The Revelation of John would caution us against presuming we are in control of that history. Ultimately that control of history and the final climax of history is to be regarded solely and uniquely as the act of God and God alone.
Given the way of the world these days it would be easy to succumb to
the pessimism we see all around us. If we have hope it is not in
political or ideological rhetoric, but in the Word - in the One who became
flesh and blood and dwelt among us.
When all else seems to fall apart we recall the words of Jesus to his disciples. “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me . . . ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’” (John 13:33). We also remember his commandment to the early disciples to “love one another” (John 13:34-35).
In speaking to the disciples in this way, Jesus is aware of their fears and anxieties. What are they do? Where are they to go? How are they to be?
The key to their understanding what is happening and to their future is their relationship to Jesus and to one another. While some may be fascinated by those who are preoccupied with predictions about the future, Jesus’ word to the disciples is that their relationship to him is what will inform and determine their relationship to one another and the world in which they live.
Like the disciples, we are called to love one another. But in what sense is the command to love “new” for the disciples? After all, there is no implication that love was absent from their lives in the tradition of Judaism.
Perhaps it was new in that the disciples were entering a new time of life in the world after Jesus’ departure. Perhaps it was new in that only now had Jesus begun to talk to them in this way. Or perhaps the nature of their love for one another was to be new: they were to love as he had loved them (John 13:34). But what was to be the nature of that love?
If love is understood as acting toward one another as God has acted toward the world and as Christ acted toward his disciples, then love was not, is not simply a feeling. If love is a way of speaking and doing and being for one another, then it would make sense for Jesus to speak of a “new commandment.”
The vision of the writer of The Revelation of John is of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) and the admonishment of Jesus to the disciples in The Gospel According to John is “a new commandment” (John 13:34). If that is true, what are we to say of ourselves today? I would venture to say that the message for today is not about what is new. Rather it is about renewal.
Like the plumeria flower in its pod or the rose hidden in its bulb, the
new is always present in the old. If we renew our commitment to
love one another then the world will see that the hope for a new heaven
and a new earth will come to pass not out of fear, but love. We
will come to realize that whatever losses we may experience in our lives,
there is the hope of renewal.
Mahalo ke Akua. Thanks be to God.