When Christmas is All But Merry: Momento Mori

On Christmas Day – December 25th 1771, the Reverand Henry John Burgess had a decision to make.  “To preach or not to preach”, that was the question.

He, the pastor of Bruton Parish Anglican Church in Williamsburg, VA, had lost his wife, Mrs. Ann Burgess, and their unnamed infant daughter while she gave birth on that fateful Christmas Day.   I do not know what he chose to do, but I do know the hope that he had for both his wife and daughter based upon his chosen inscription for their grave.

To this day, Ann and their daughter sleep in repose near the front door of Bruton Parish, which is an active Episcopal church amidst the historians, reenactors, and visitors of Colonial Williamsburg.

“Here sleeps in Jesus, united to Him by Faith and the Graces of a christian life, all that was Mortal of Mrs. Ann Burgess, once the tender and affectionate Wife of the Rev. Henry John Burgess, of the Isle of Wright: She died 25th:
December 1771 in giving Birth to an Infant Daughter, who rests in Her Arms; She here waits the transporting Moment when the Trump of God shall call her Forth to Glory, Honour, and Immortality.
Oh Death where is thy Sting?
Oh Grace where is thy Victory?”

His life is a near perfect mirror of the emotions that Joseph must have felt as Mary and the Promised Child were surrounded by shepherds, who were suddenly surrounded themselves with angels and a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those
with whom he is pleased!”

The Brilliance’s “Dust We Are and Shall Return” captures exactly where I am this Christmas morn as I mourn the loss of a dear one.  The refrain of “Glory to God in the highest” is appropriate this morning.

Ann and her infant daughter were likely surrounded by that same Glory, but for Henry, he was suddenly alone, with a congregation to shepherd, and a Christmas sermon to preach.  It was a Christmas that he simply needed to get through.  What were his experiences?  What were his emotions?  How did he cope?

Maybe you are there this Christmas morn.  Maybe you aren’t.

For those that are in a similar place of suffering and struggle amidst the Christmas atmosphere, John Henry Burgess is a microcosm of possibly how to cope.  I plan on learning more about him this year as I make my way through a mournful 2018.

It is a time for “Momento Mori” – remembering that I am mortal and that eternal peace awaits.  For now, the suffering I am walking through is concealed.  It is a death of sorts, hence the new addition to the left hand.  It is a mourning ring from Colonial Williamsburg.

As I learn more about how Henry John coped, I’ll compare and contrast with my own journey.  The below was taken in front of The Virginian Colonial Lord Dunmore Governor’s Palace three days ago.

Until then, may you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  If neither are Merry, nor Happy, remember…

“…the Trump of God shall call her Forth to Glory, Honour, and Immortality.
Oh Death where is thy Sting?
Oh Grace where is thy Victory?”

For the Christian, you have an Abba who you belong too.  May you dwell on Him and His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit this morning – even through your mourning.  You don’t have to be happy, but Joy awaits amidst the sadness.  You have permission to be sad.

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