This, the third Sunday after Easter, was Good Shepherd Sunday, and our service was led by young people. Tristan Horan preached.
This, the third Sunday after Easter, was Good Shepherd Sunday, and our service was led by young people. Tristan Horan preached.
Truly our fellowship is with our Creator and with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. May our joy be made complete by him, in him, and through him. Amen (1 John 1:3-4)
In this Easter season in the past couple of weeks here at St. Paul’s we’ve had the sacrament of baptism in our hearts, minds, and souls. Lois was baptized at the vigil, and spoke her own baptismal promises. Baby Rylen received it last Sunday. His parents and godparents spoke his promises for him.
Rylen’s parents and godparents made some promises of their own. Martha asked them
They, all four of them, answered “I will, with God’s help.”
And the rest of us promised, with the help of God, to do all in our power to support Rylen, and Lois also, in their lives in Christ.
Those are big and powerful promises – “responsible”, “prayers and witness,” “all in our power.” If you asked your lawyer, “should I make these promises?” she would probably say, “No way! There’s no limit or cancellation clause.” Those aren’t simple contract promises, they’re real covenants. They are unlimited in their scope. They bring to mind the words of Jeremiah:
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33 NRSV)
It’s good for all of us who made those awesome promises that the LORD our God has filled our hearts with that living law of love. It’s good for all of us that baptism is a sacrament – an outward sign of inward grace. It’s good that baptism isn’t some kind of business deal, but a sign that God loves us and is proud of us, no matter what happens.
A decade and a half ago, or so, nine members of our congregation had their parents and godparents speak those same promises for them. And the people around them promised to do all in their power to support those nine in their lives in Christ.
Yesterday, they spoke for themselves. They spoke their own promises, and took personal responsibility for them. They were confirmed along with eighty or so other people from other congregations. It was a privilege to witness that event, and to get a chance to renew my own promise to do all in my power to support them in their lives in Christ.
To their parents and godparents, we the congregation say “well done! Big promises, made and kept!” Speaking for myself to you, this congregation nurturing and supporting them with your prayers, examples, and unconditional love, I say “thank you.”
At confirmation our young people repeated the vows made for them when they were baptized. (p 304 of BCP). I wonder, what was going through the minds of our confirmands as they spoke those promises? They could have been blabbing away saying some prayer-book words by rote. Or, maybe they were agreeing to certain propositions of faith, and promising to behave certain ways, so they can be members of the in-group. Maybe they thought they were getting their tickets punched so they can get into heaven, and never mind the out-group folks.
At a recent funeral a member of a nearby church pointed to the crowd of mourners and quietly said to me, “it’s too bad so many of these people haven’t accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, so they’re going to hell.” A lot – a whole lot – of people in our world understand Christianity that way: they think it’s a bunch of mumbo-jumbo we have to say and do that somehow earns us pie in the sky by and by when we die, and the devil take the rest.
It’s no wonder various churches are losing members when so many people think that’s what the church, and the life of faith, is about. People are getting disgusted and leaving. I confess this decline of Christ’s church makes me anxious. The church’s mission is to bear witness to the world that God loves each person, and God is proud of each person, no matter what.
How are we, the universal church, doing at this mission of love? Every congregation I’ve been a part of—this one and others—has many people who have lost, or nearly lost, loved ones to addiction, or anger, or war, or some other manifestation of evil. I lie awake at night chewing over those cases, thinking shoulda, woulda, coulda. If only we, the universal church, coulda let go of our mumbo-jumbo and our ingroups, and shown forth God’s love to those people when they needed it, maybe they would still be among us. If only. If only. It hurts to think about it.
Now let me be clear: we’ve lost those people; they’re lost to us but not to God. God still loves them, and is still proud of them. God still yearns for their healing and wholeness, just as we do. But we need them, just as we need all of us, just as we need you ninety confirmands of yesterday, to bear witness of Christ’s love to the world. This decline of the church makes it hard to carry out our mission, so it’s bad for the life of the world.
There’s good news. Martha and I can tell you this: for our young people their confirmation is not all about ticket-punching for pie in the sky. To them the baptismal promises are not mumbo-jumbo. During their classes with Martha and at their confirmation retreat our folks spent a lot of time thinking through what these promises mean to their lives. God is present in their lives, and they do recognize the face of Christ in the people they meet. I recognize Christ’s face when I meet them.
Still, there a kernel of truth in the old riddle: Q. how do you get rid of squirrels in the church attic? A. Confirm them; they’ll leave. I know you confirmands lead highly scheduled lives. I know your downtime is precious, and a lot of it is on Sunday mornings. That’s a simple reality.
Still, I confess that I’d like to get down on my knees and beg you to stay engaged with the church. I’m rejoicing at the privilege of laying hands on you and feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit in each of you. At the same time I want to shout out, you’re not squirrels, you’re young adults, stick around, don’t leave. You’re beloved daughters and sons of God and of this church community. I want to shout out, we need you, and you need us. The path of faith is best when shared with a community of people you love. We do need your company on that path, and you need ours.
I want to shout out, God needs you. But then I must get a grip, and chill out, and remember, God already has you, and you have God. God has all of us, and we all have God, no matter what happens.
Today’s gospel reading describes Jesus’s friends as startled, terrified, frightened, and questioning.
[While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead on the way to Emmaus,] Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:36b-42 NRSV)
It’s no secret that the whole world today is like that: startled, terrified, frightened and questioning. Into this messed-up world comes the risen Jesus saying, “peace be with you,” and “do you have something to eat?” Those are simple words – no mumbo-jumbo there. The church has been around for a couple of thousand years, as a safe place go to ask for something to eat, or to ask for a word of peace, no questions asked. It’s also a safe place to go to offer somebody a word of peace, or something to eat. As you young people go about your life journeys please remember that the community of faith is with you, no matter what happens to you or to us. And please remember what’s at stake in the strength of this community: the peace and healing of the whole world.
These things I say to you in the name of the +risen Christ. Hallelujah. Amen.
Ms. Terry Rooney, Preacher
Imagine that you are one of the followers of Jesus – the man crucified a just few days ago –
That you and your closest friends are huddled upstairs in someone’s extra room, on some dusty side-street; fearful of any commotion outside that could be Roman soldiers looking for his followers
Jumping at every clang or echo of the morning’s bustle out on the street – flinching at every group of voices drifting upward as they pass by- hating yourself for being so scared
Maybe you can’t help checking the lock on the door a few times – or pacing some – or even trying get a quick glimpse out the window to assess the traffic on the street below.
Your stomachs may be growling because there wasn’t any time to get any food to last a few days of hiding out – and sleep has been nearly impossible when you are holding your breath and trying to keep one eye open all night
There’s no way to know what might happen next – given the brutality and horror of these last few days – no way of knowing what Pilate’s troops are capable of doing to those who were his closest friends
Imagine – for a few minutes what that room might have felt like – in the long hours before Jesus returned to them
What questions might they have been asking of themselves – ‘how did it all come down to this? What about the families we left behind – If he was supposed to be the savior we had waited for –then how could he have been so cruelly and publicly executed?
Perhaps they are losing hold of what Jesus tried so many times to tell them about his return? Maybe their confidence that he was in fact the Christ, was beginning to fade as their uncertainty gave way to a collective, maybe unspoken fear
the full weight of all their doubts and worries growing heavier and heavier as the moments and hours dragged on
Until finally, he appeared before them
The scene that John describes for us this morning, includes not only the famous (iconic) encounter with Thomas and his freely voiced doubts, but a vivid description of Jesus’ first act after he is risen which I would argue is one of pure forgiveness and compassion. There is also once again the imagery of God’s breath as the impetus for creation- something we heard about several times in our readings at the Great Vigil and there is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In this account Jesus has left the tomb and after his brief first encounter with a fearless Mary – he goes in search of his other disciples – the few who knew him best – who had the most intimate knowledge of him and his teachings –only to find them now holed up in a tomb of their own
There is no fanfare awaiting him, no jubilant welcoming committee
Given the events of the past few days, Jesus knows they will be in hiding from the authorities and so he seeks them out – he comes to them, to the upper room where they have taken cover under tables, behind a locked door
He has returned to those who failed him – to those who slept while he prayed in the garden, to those who denied him in the square– the ones who ran away, who hide even now as he first appears before them- doubters all
I think if we stop and look at it for a minute – I think that his very appearance among them is an act of forgiveness. By seeking them out, bringing the greeting of Peace – and showing them his wounds – even giving them a few minutes to realize what and whom they are seeing before them seems to me an unstinting act of mercy for their fragile hearts and battered faith
And then -with his breath he bestows upon them the advocate – the Holy Spirit – just as he had promised
This breath mirrors his father’s in Genesis –the breath of the first creation -that brought the universe into being – that gave life to adam and eve;
And – it recalls as well of the prophesying breath that Ezekiel uses to bring life to the dry bones in the desert
And in this first encounter with his disciples, in the very first hours after he has risen from the dead -with his breath, Jesus literally brings the Spirit into the frightened disciples, initiating the new covenant he spoke of at the last supper the one that will be written on our hearts –to love one another, neighbor and enemy alike
And when he says “receive the Holy Spirit” – he follows that gift immediately with a sentence that endows them/us with something else –something very important – he says “Whatever sins you forgive, will be forgiven and whatever sins you retain will be retained”
Now, this story has some memorable characters in it who could easily overtake the story – in fact, all too often we might think this passage is just about showing up poor Thomas as an arrogant dunce who is insolent enough to say aloud that he wants visual proof that Jesus has risen before he will believe—– but that is not all that this passage is about
Or we may have over the years heard that this is a passage comes down to only one thing – that it’s about the absolute centrality of belief in Jesus – a blind belief in his divinity, in the salvation achieved through his death and resurrection. That only through believing will you have life in his name as the last line says –
But that I think, is only part of the story- if we stop there I think we would be missing out on some of the most significant of Jesus’ words in the whole of the NT –and missing one of the most important gifts that Jesus leaves us with
Hear the power in this line – “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any they are retained” – it is really quite incredible on several counts
First – above all else the thing I find so wonderful about this gift that Jesus makes to us in the very first hours of his newly covenanted creation- is that he shares it with us – saying the power to absolve – to be merciful rests not with God alone – he never says – ‘I am the decider – absolution is mine alone and I’ll decide who is to be forgiven and who isn’t.’
No- he says this is part of our agency in him – the power to forgive one another is an integral part of our humanity – it is part of the baptism we share with Jesus and we must struggle on our own to employ its awesome and generous power between ourselves as we struggle to live up to the discipleship he calls us to
Second— receiving the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive come hand in hand – it is with these gifts – both of them that we are sent forth – into a world without the physical presence of Jesus, into a world where the Kingdom of God will be realized through the agency of the faithful
In this passage Jesus reveals he power he has placed in our hands- the power to forgive and to reconcile —or not
Quite simply –both extending and needing forgiveness is part of being sent – sent forward as his followers to practice all that he has taught us about living out that new covenant, about loving one another, about caring for the stranger, the prisoner, yes even our adversaries
Third – in the declaration that Jesus makes – he assumes that forgiveness will be absolutely necessary. Implicit in this gift from Jesus is his knowledge that our common life going forward will be fraught with challenges, with interpersonal hurts and pain- some of great – even unspeakable magnitude.
Still, bound as we may be in our effort to follow his teachings– this will be will be a very human and therefore frail enterprise. No one among us will escape the need to be forgiven – not those we most admire or revere, not those closest to us – not even the Church itself
It also assumes that both extending forgiveness and receiving it will be crucial to building community and moving forward. Along the way, the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say when we find it hardest to find the words- like when we need to voice a hurt or admit our own fault. Still, having this power doesn’t mean it will always be easy- in fact, we will need help sometimes. It may take months or even years. And there will even be times when the only way we may be able to forgive or to accept an apology will be with the help of others holding us up.
The final thing that strikes me about this gift from the risen Christ –is that he places it in our hands. Jesus doesn’t give any instructions here on whom or how often to forgive – he leaves that up to us. But when he says that ‘what we do not forgive will be retained’ he lets us know that a decision not to forgive means something significant– and will have its own consequences. The idea that there may be a cost associated with not extending forgiveness for a wrong can be found across major world religions – Buddhists believe that what we cannot forgive – what we have not released, we instead end up building a separate identity around – and that it is that pain that will be reborn and continue to suffer
Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that ‘forgiving and being reconciled are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong.’ Indeed it is an infinitely risky business, because true reconciliation exposes the pain… reveals the truth’ he says.
Forgiveness may mean abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss he is convinced that will liberate the sufferer.
Indeed, Tutu says that to forgive is actually the best form of self interest since anger, resentment and revenge are corrosive of the summuum bonum – that greatest good, communal harmony that enhances the humanity and personhood of all in the community.
It is that humanity and personhood that I think Jesus envisions when he sends us forth in the company of the Holy Spirit – armed with the power both to forgive and to accept forgiveness, and warned about the costs of retaining another’s sins. His sharing this gift with his followers changes the equation of our covenant with God–rather than emphasizing our constant hope for or dependence upon divine mercy- the new covenant with its requirement for unconditional love asserts that this is about how we treat one another – it about what takes place in the space between us – where all of life’s hurts, joys, losses and celebrations happen
The act of forgiveness is at its heart a declaration of our faith in the future of our common bonds, faith in our ties to one another; in making a new beginning with Christ.
Alleluia -He has returned to us, seeking us out as he did his disciples, bringing us his Peace, anointing us with the Holy Spirit, and sending us forth with the power of forgiveness.
So –are we called—
Perhaps we will need first to forgive ourselves for not being able to love as unconditionally as Jesus – but let us pray for the strength to forgive when we can, to accept apologies when we can and ask the Holy Spirit for help with all the rest
I have some irreverent friends.
One of them has been known to ask me when Easter rolls around– “do you really have to go to church tonight? Don’t you already know how the story turns out?”
Its not a completely ridiculous question I suppose – for we do know the ending of the story, don’t we?
But, still it gives me a chance to try and say in some clear way what it is that I think we are doing here on this night that we call the holiest of the year. It offers an opportunity for me to think about why we gather in the dark to keep this Great Vigil – to think about what this night means that makes it so different from all other nights of the year
For this is a night of epic proportions – a night when we step fully into the mysteries of our faith.
A night full of big stories- with fierce readings from the Old Testament.
It’s a night of fire and the initiating waters of baptism .
It’s a night in which we journey from our mindful contemplation of the passion– toward the light of rebirth at the empty tomb.
It is the night for reverent witness of the ultimate transcendence – when forgiveness and unconditional love are made real in the risen Christ.
So, I guess my first answer to her is that this isn’t just about coming to hear the rest of the story – it’s about being in the story– it’s about taking our place in the transcendent covenant that Jesus extends to us in his passion and resurrection –it’s about receiving that covenant with open hands as a people of God
As children of the flood –
As the offspring of slaves –
As descendents of exile, destruction and bloodshed– of war and famine carried out on our behalf – the price paid for our freedom –
Indeed- the very point is the gathering itself – the coming together as church in the same way that our ancestors have done for generations – to tell and retell the stories that shape us–that mark us and our inheritance in Christ
This is the holy night of darkness –when we place ourselves in the great chasm of those hours between the cross and the empty tomb-
It is the night when we have the privilege to become a human bridge between the terror of the flood and the liberation from bondage;
–between the darkness our Lord’s death and the light of his resurrection –
And on this night —It is our turn to keep watch – to assemble ourselves with intentional and listening hearts to await the risen Christ.
It is our job to bear witness to the renewal that God is working in the world.
Our task to await the fulfillment of his promise to return and claim us as his own –a forgiven and reconciled people.
And so, in the quiet darkness on this night we begin with readings from Genesis and Exodus –readings that remind us of times when we wanted a God who would not only save us, but who would vanquish our enemies – because we believed then –(perhaps sometimes we still do) that survival could only be secured –could only be possible- when our enemies had been eliminated from the face of the earth
We tell and retell these stories because our shared past of violent struggle is part of who we are and where we have come from, and because it is only by acknowledging that past can we hope to take up the challenge of the new covenant borne for us in Jesus’ triumph over death
The covenant which calls us not only to love our neighbors but to love – unconditionally – to love our greatest rivals – hated strangers – those of whom we are suspicious – those we regard with contempt
In his resurrection, Christ returns to the very people who let him down – to those who fell asleep in the garden – to those who denied him in the square, to those who hid under tables in upper rooms – it is to us that he returns- to us with all of our fears and insecurities and doubts about whether we can ever live up to his most fundamental commandment – that we love one another – enemies too
And as hard as living up to what that new covenant demands – a Taize prayer reminds us – it is God who lights the fire inside us and none of our doubts about ourselves or our capacity for the kind of forgiveness that Jesus shows us, can banish that fire
So tonight, let us make an offering of ourselves – to be in this story – to leave behind the conditional love of our ancestors to accept in person the mercy extended to us through Christ’s resurrection and pray that the light of our paschal candle will burn away any resistance left in us to taking our place in this unfolding story of redemption and reconciliation
Reflection on the readings of Noah and of the crossing of the Red Sea, by Terry Rooney.
Reflections on the readings of the Valley of the Dry Bones and Zephaniah, by Starr Anderson.
Reflection on the Gospel according to Mark, by Oliver Jones
Hallelujah – Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Hallelujah Hallelujah.
We’ve been on a journey together tonight to get here. Physically we’ve kindled the new light – the light of Christ – out of the darkness. We’ve huddled together crowded into a cellar with blackout curtains on the windows; we’ve walked a rough and narrow path through a graveyard.
We’ve waded through the deep water God troubled and stirred up. One of us drowned to her old self in that troubled water. She’s been reborn in baptism. Many of us have reaffirmed that we too have passed through that water from death into life.
And now we’re here, in this glorious room full of flowers and light, celebrating Jesus’s own passage from death into life. Alleluia?
Of course, this little journey around this building is a symbol of our personal life journeys. We’ve all spent time huddled in symbolic cellars. We’ve all spent time facing some kind of troubled waters and hoping to pull together the courage to pass through them. And, we’ve all had moments of beauty and glory like this one we’re sharing here.
Along with our physical journey, we’ve been on a scriptural journey together. Through the forty days of Lent we’ve walked with Jesus and the disciples along the hard path from Galilee to Jerusalem and then to the cross. This evening we’ve walked with the children of Israel – the people of God – through the history of God’s care for us. We’ve experienced the creation of light. We’ve climbed into the ark with Noah and his family. We’ve survived the water of the great flood.
With the Israelites we’re moving from bondage to freedom. They weren’t perfect people, and neither are we. I wonder if they suspected, in the midst of their struggles, that they were getting some pretty good breaks from Almighty God. Speaking for myself, I know I’ve received some good breaks; better than I deserve. I suppose some of you may feel that the Almighty has treated you more than fairly, at least sometimes.
And, in this world when it’s not too wet, it’s too dry. Our bones, with the children of Israel’s, have lain scattered around the dusty desert valley sometimes. By the life-giving breath of God their bones, and ours, have been reconnected – re-membered. We’ve been rejoined to ourselves, to each other, and to God, and made whole, as the prophet Ezekiel has taught us.
Zephaniah taught us that we — the scattered, starving, and shame-ridden children of the holy mountain Zion — have been gathered and restored to our home, and that our Lord is singing a victory song over us.
Do I need to spell out what all this means symbolically for our lives? In our lives we’ve all suffered from floods of trouble that seemed endless. Most of us have escaped from trouble in the nick of time. We’ve all been through desert times: times when our relationships with God and each other have completely dried out. You know the times you’ve felt like you’ve shamefully cut yourself off from the peace and comfort of the place you know as home, the Mount Zion of your own life. I know I’ve had that experience.
But through all this the Lord has been present, continuously sustaining me, and you. The Lord has always promised us the gift of life and light. Along with Paul we’ve come through the water of baptism. We’ve heard that we’ve died to sin and we’re alive to God in Christ Jesus. And, we’re here among all these flowers celebrating Jesus’s own rising from the grave to new life.
For the sake of Christ, God is welcoming us, in all our mixed glory in his realm. So far, so good.
And now we come to Mark’s short Gospel reading. Mark gives us the privilege of seeing the events of Jesus’s life through God’s own eyes. Let’s continue our journey together: let’s go along with these three women in their journey to the Jesus’s tomb. The gospel says they bought some embalming spices after the Sabbath ended, and then went to the tomb at sunrise.
What was their experience in those post-Sabbath hours? These women knew exactly what they were doing, and they must have been courageous. They must have scrambled to buy those spices after the Sabbath-day sunset, or maybe right before sunrise. Was that like the time I stopped at an all-night convenience store early on a Sunday morning in my clergy clothing to buy some pita bread and a bottle of wine? My little purchase was a confession of faith: The store clerk knew exactly what I was up to. In the same way the people of that Jerusalem marketplace must have known exactly what those women were planning to do. They were courageous: they were willing to be seen and known as the ones who buried Jesus properly. So far so good.
Then, they left the city to visit the tomb. They were determined to honor Jesus’s corpse. Even though they knew exactly what they wanted to do, they weren’t quite sure how they were going to do it. They walked out the city gates talking about the big stone. So far so good.
Then – surprise – they looked up. They saw the stone was already out of the way. They saw that Jesus was gone from the tomb. They heard the angel repeat Jesus’s promise that he was going ahead of them, back to Galilee. They heard the angel’s instruction to go and tell the others. So far so good.
But then we see, through Mark’s and God’s eyes, a great puzzle about who those women are, and who we are as faithful people.
They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8 NRSV)
That’s where our Gospel reading ends … “for they were afraid”. It’s hard to take in, isn’t it? When God sees those people who loved Jesus so much, God gives them wondrously good news – forget about your plans to bury him, he’s alive!
What were they afraid of? Why didn’t they run and shout out the good news? I asked one young person here in St. Paul’s Church what she thought. Her good and sensible answer was that they were afraid of the Roman soldiers and the high priests and scribes. That’s probably right. Those people were dangerous, and Jesus’s friends were wise to be afraid of them.
But maybe there’s a little more to it than that. God saw them as they really were, not as they wanted to be. God has seen you and me huddled in the cellar. God has seen you and me wanting, but fearing, to wade through the water of baptism. God saw them bogged down in their plan to give Jesus a proper burial. God sees you and me bogged down in our plans too. God sees us in our struggles and loves us.
Whatever great divine gifts and holy graces we get, God knows we still struggle. We struggle to take them in. We struggle to respond to them. We struggle hard to live as God’s own people. There’s no magic in baptism, or in being God’s people, that makes us so we stop having doubts and fear. The whole Biblical history we’ve heard tonight reminds us of this.
But wherever we’re going next in our journey together – whether it’s easy or hard to get there — we have this simple promise. Jesus has gone there ahead of us. Lois, this promise is for you: your baptism tonight recognizes that you’ve been adopted, no matter what happens, as God’s beloved daughter. Wherever you go, and however difficult your journey is to get there, you can count on this: Jesus is already there waiting for you.
In his + name and for the life of the whole world, Hallelujah, Amen
Good Friday sermon, April 6, 2012.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We just heard about, and participated in, Jesus’s royal welcome into Jerusalem. Say the words of welcome with me: “Hosanna: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord: the king of Israel.”
Now we’re about to jump forward from Sunday to Thursday. We’re about to hear about, and participate in, Saint Mark’s account of the last night of Jesus’s life and the day of his death.
We’ll be there for his last meal with his dear friends. We’ll witness his anguished private conversation with the one who sent him, the one he calls Abba – Daddy. We’ll see his betrayal by one of us. We’ll be there for his trial before the temple high priests and scribes. We’ll overhear his private interview with Pilate. Then we’ll witness his humiliation, death and burial. In the midst of it all, we’re going to find out how feckless his friends turned out to be.
And we’re going to witness just how steadfast Jesus is in the face of all that humiliation and pain. We’ll notice that he never argues – not even once – with his captors, or pleads with them. He doesn’t touch the painkiller they offer him. Every public word he speaks is faithful, strong, and straight from scripture – every word! The words he speaks while he’s dying are from a Psalm of lament; the people witnessing his death surely knew it.
The Philippians’ hymn we heard a minute ago has it right;
being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.
These Gospel chapters we’re about to hear are about those people that spring Passover day in Jerusalem. But let’s be clear: these words are just as much about you and me as they are about those folks long ago.
For us, as we participate in and witness this, it’s going to be a harsh change from Palm Sunday to the Thursday of the last supper. It’s going to be wrenching for you and me, in our hearts. We’re going to change over from shouting, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” to “crucify him.” It’s going to hurt you and me, and it’s going to kill Jesus.
I wonder, what is it about our human nature that makes it possible for us to change from “hosanna!” to “crucify!” so quickly? What makes us so willing to sacrifice the one who offers us such abundant life? What makes it so easy for us to be like Judas and Peter and the crowd? What makes it so hard for us to be like Jesus?
You may have heard (from Martha last week) that the young people in our confirmation retreat played a game with Tom Shaw called “stump the bishop.” The young folks asked plenty of serious questions. They asked, what is sin? And they asked some joke questions. Somebody asked, “what is Jesus’s shoe size?” Tom answered, “I don’t know, but I think he’s a short man, and not physically imposing, like me. So I hope his shoe size is 8 ½ D, the same as mine.”
Bishop Tom is good at finding the heart of a serious question, or a joke, and using it to teach. He taught those young people that to follow Jesus is to hope to be like him. 8 ½ D. He taught us the same thing Paul wrote to the Philippians he loved … “Let the same mind be in me, and in you, that was in Christ Jesus.”
But … we all know there’s a “but.” It’s hard, very hard, to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. We human beings are social creatures: we say what we think the people around us want to hear – “I don’t know this man. What are you talking about?” We follow the crowd around us. We follow the crowd whether shouting Hosanna, or shouting Crucify! We yearn for order in our lives. We think a king will magically make us strong, so we shout Hosanna!
We think that if we can make somebody else cower and whimper our lives will improve. We think making somebody suffer and die will somehow build us up and make us stronger. We all experience this sometimes. So, together we shout Crucify!
But our violence doesn’t work. It fails to build us up, and it fails to tear Jesus down. In the middle of the mob he stands steadfast. He doesn’t give us the satisfaction of cowering or whimpering. The only satisfaction he gives us is his very self, his very life poured out for us in love. The witness he gives us is this: our crowd violence is not only evil, it’s silly, it’s ineffective. In the face of his awesome love, our angry collective lust for punishment is, simply, nothing.
A word about the scripture: As we read and participate in this passion, please notice the point of view Saint Mark offers us. We get to witness the whole story. We’re there kneeling with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We walk next to Peter in his frightful loneliness. We’re a fly on the wall in Pilate’s palace. We’re right there with Jesus hanging on the cross; we get to understand his words from psalm 22, “Eloi Eloi” “My God, my God” when the crowd, further away, only hears “Elijah.”
So, we get the God’s-eye-view of this episode. The episode – Jesus’s passion and death – is horrendous. But Saint Mark’s clear and uncompromising divine view of it is a great gift. That view lifts us out of ourselves.
Can we accept this gift? In the view seen through God’s eyes, God’s love embraces our whole humanity. God’s love is greater our loneliness, our violence and our brokenness. God’s steadfast love simply overwhelms our sinfulness, and even overwhelms our faith. That’s the gift of having the same mind that’s in Christ Jesus, and of walking in his sandals.
So let us walk together with Jesus through this terrifying episode of violence and evil. Let us witness this good news as we walk with him: he holds us in love and never gives up on us, no matter what happens.
These things I say to you in + Jesus’s name and for the life of the whole world.
Mark Chapters 14-15: The Passion of Jesus according to Mark.