Sermon Bonus 11.20.16 – “An Important Failure”

Sermon Bonus 11.20.16 – “An Important Failure”


In the sermon Sunday, I mentioned the poem by W.H. Auden called “Musee des Beaux Arts.”  In the poem, Auden talks about Pieter Bruegel’s painting, The Fall of Icarus.  In the painting, everyone is turning away from Icarus as he plunges into the sea.  To them, it simply wasn’t an “important failure.”

When we look at the crucifixion from a mortal point of view that’s what we see, too—an unimportant failure.  It seems like Jesus’ death is just another example about how the powers and authorities of this world triumph over innocence and goodness.  

But we are called beyond a mortal view of the scene.  The resurrection allows us to see the ultimate victory of love and the triumph of weakness.  There’s a bigger story happening, and we are called into it.

Here is the painting, with Auden’s poem:




Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

—W.H. Auden


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