[Martinez Sports Center, ADDU Matina, March 3, 2015]
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
I am sure you have all heard this nursery rhyme. Some of you may even know it by heart. Some of you may even be able to sing it.
Since you are all graduating from our grade school today, I wonder if you know who Humpty Dumpty is? Or, perhaps, what Humpty Dumpty was?
I bet when you think of Humpty Dumpty, you think of an egg that is in the shape of a man. Or – would it be more correct to say a man that is in the shape of an egg! Or perhaps, more familiar to you: a child that lives and acts and talks in the shape of an egg.
An egg is very fragile. Once you drop a fresh egg, it crashes hopelessly to the ground? Who can repair a fresh egg when it has dropped and is splattered all over the floor?
The Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme has something to say to us on this your graduation day – if you combine it with God’s word that we have just heard.
While almost everyone knows the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme by heart, nobody really knows who Humpty Dumpty originally was or is. That is why Humpty Dumpty was always some form of life riddle. If you Google “Humpty Dumpty,” you find that in the 17th century – so some 400 years ago – Humpty Dumpty was a powerful drink, a mixture of “brandy boiled with ale.” Drink it, then sit on a wall. It was so strong it could cause you to fall.
Some have thought that Humpty Dumpty was Richard III of England who lived two hundred years before they started concocting Humpty Dumpty drinks. Richard III had a hump on his back and wasn’t particularly strong. In the Battle of Bosworth, he fell. And died. And “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put him together again.” Thus, some think Humpty Dumpty was King Richard III. But no one has been able to prove this.
Then, some have contended that Humpty Dumpty was a “tortoise siege engine” – a sort of roofed-over battering ram that they used in the 18th century for attacking the city of Glouchster. They attacked their enemy fortress, but were destroyed.
Another theory is that Humpty Dumpty was a canon perched on the wall of the church of St. Mary-of-the-Wall; it was used in the 17th century to defend the walled town of Colchester. When the attackers fired on Colchester, the wall on which the big Humpty Dumpty canon was perched was so badly damaged, it could no longer carry its heavy weight. So Humpty Dumpty came crashing down and was destroyed. “All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.”
So was Humpty Dumpty a powerful drink, an unsuccessful king, a battering ram, a fallen canon, an egg-shaped man, or an egg? Perhaps we might all be happier if we leave the rhyme with the image of the little egg-shaped child. We are familiar with this child. He has become something like a childhood friend.
On the other hand, there is something sad about the Humpty Dumpty rhyme, isn’t there? What is sad about it? Humpty Dumpty, who may have been a cute little child, had a great fall. And nothing, not the king’s horses, not the king’s men, could put Humpty together again. When you think of Humpty in this light, and think that he may also just be a clumsy child, a classmate, a sister or a brother, who fell from a wall and died, you might ask, why should any child fall from a wall and die without anybody being able to put the child together again?
I think people are Humpty Dumpties. They face challenges, they climb walls, they think they’re on top of the world, then they fall. They’re silly people. They defy danger. They take a risk too many. Then they fall. They’re ambitious people. They work hard to get rich. They climb to the top of the world, to the top of a street called Wall. Then they fall. They are violent people. They are battering rams. They attack the world confident they are protected. But they have underestimated their enemies; they are destroyed. They are proud cannons atop walls. They think they’re invincible. But their foundations, their presuppositions, are attacked and undermined. They fall. They are ordinary people who live ordinary lives, lovable people sitting atop ordinary walls. They live honorably, they strive hard to do what is right. Then, meeting temptation, meeting sickness, meeting death, they too fall. “And all the kings horses and all the King’s men could not put Humpty together again!” All the world’s power and all the world’s skill could not put Humpty together again.
Mankind falls. All of mankind’s powers cannot put mankind together again.
This is where what God tells us in today’s readings is so important. Knowing Humpty has fallen, he says to Humpty, as he says to us all: “You are not alone. I am with you.” (cf. Mt. 1:23). In our first reading, he says, “I will be your God, you will be my people” (cf. Gen 17:8-9). In our Gospel for today, he says: “Whoever keeps my word will never see death” (Jn. 8:31). Later, in the same Gospel, he says: “When [on the cross] I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32). He says: What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot do, I can do. I can heal. I can forgive. I can deal death its deathblow. I can put the pieces together again.
Thus, instead of the despair of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme, we have the hope of our Savior, Jesus:
Jesus, Savior, Lord of us all,
You can save us when we should fall
All the world treasures and power of men
Fail us when falling again and again.
With all of life’s challenges and disappointments, all does not all end in a Humpty Dumpty fall. Jesus puts us together again, and lifts us up.
Graduating from Grade School, the challenge is to meet the future, not alone, but with Jesus. In our Grade school, you have not only learned about reading, writing and arithmetic. You have come to know Jesus. Get to know him better each day. Talk to him. Learn from him. Welcome him into your lives.
Bless us Jesus as on this day
Grade School ended, to you we pray
While with life’s challenges we must contend
Be our companion, protector and friend!