Good Friday

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

…………….

When I was a kid,

My church really loved to sing some of those revival hymns

From the 19thcentury tent meetings.

Since I’ve become Anglican I don’t get that experience as much anymore,

But when you grow up

Singing those hymns,

Those catchy, upbeat hymns

Often intentionally set to drinking tunes,

They never really leave you.

And this week,

For some reason,

I’ve found myself whistling to Victory in Jesus.

I heard an old, old story,

How a Saviour came from glory

How he gave his life on Calvary

To save a wretch like me.

O victory in Jesus!

My Saviour forever

He sought me

And bought me

With his redeeming blood.

He loved me ere I knew him

And all my love is due him

He plunged me to victory

Beneath the cleansing flood.

The upbeat, triumphal tune to this song

Doesn’t at all match

The somber reflections we engage in today.

A dying man on a cross

Doesn’t at all match

What we think of

As victory.

……………………….

From our earliest days,

Christians have struggled to articulate

What exactly Jesus’s death on the cross means for us.

It has always been a source of mockery –

Archeologists have discovered ancient Roman graffiti

Featuring a man with a donkey’s head on a cross

With stick figures worshipping him,

Basically saying “Look at these dum-dums.

They worship an ass on a cross.”

Jesus’s death doesn’t look much like victory.

It looks like defeat.

Human beings have always been captivated by the power of story,

We look to narrative to shape our understanding of events,

And this is not what the story of a winner looks like.

Jesus breaks the cycle

Of revenge and violence

By refusing to conform to our expectations of what winning should be.

He declines to kick butt and take names,

He refuses to hit back,

He stands silent when condemned.

And he wins.

He holds firm to his relationships,

Even when it appears that everyone he loves has abandoned him.

With his final breaths, he gives the disciple whom he loves and his mother to one another, making sure that she is taken care of, inaugurating a new family even as he is dying.

This is what victory looks like.

Not an eye for an eye

Not turning our hearts to stone

For the sake of some imagined prosperous future

That can only be gained by shutting out

Those who are a drain on our resources

Not making sure we get ours

And too bad everybody else who’s left behind.

Victory looks like reaching out

From within suffering

To knit together

Rather than to tear apart.

To look out,

Even at those who have hurt us

And call them brother.

Victory looks like rewriting the narrative

That has driven human society for millennia

And declaring that all our criteria for what counts as winning are worthless

For Christ alone

Has plunged us into victory

That we had previously believed to be loss.

As a great theologian has said,

“In the cross,

Jesus transvalues our values.

He turns them upside down.”

In other words, he tells us that we have been looking for victory

In the wrong direction.

The cross stands in judgment

Of all the achievements for which human beings strive

Of our continual quest for power over

Rather than power with.

The same theologian writes,

“The Christian knows that the cross is the truth.

In that standard he sees the ultimate success of what the world calls failure

And failure of what the world calls success.”

And so today, we acknowledge our failure.

We lay down our arms.

We give up on the idea

Of trying to be a success.

We stop trying to achieve a perfection

A victory

That the world defines

That we can never quite reach.

And in letting go

Of what the world calls success

We are plunged into Christ’s victory

Over death itself.

Amen.

 

Palm Sunday

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

………….

And so it begins.

Our Holy Week journey

Where we walk with Jesus

Through the last week of his life.

Holy Week is a special time of year.

The rest of the year,

Our worship is primarily that: worship.

We praise God,

And thank God for all that God has done for us.

We might change emphasis

From Christmas to Lent,

From Advent to Ordinary Time,

But our purpose is to offer praise and thanksgiving to God.

Holy Week is a little bit different.

We’re still worshipping, of course,

But there is something a little more powerful

About this season

In which we remember the stories

Of Jesus’s last week on earth

As he walked toward the Cross and Grave.

Because we don’t just remember them

In the sense that we are reminded of them.

In walking with Jesus in Holy Week,

We re-member the stories.

We reconstitute them,

Reincorporate them.

We take out the dusty, dry bones,

And breath new flesh onto them.

We re-enact them.

We live them

Again.

When our Jewish neighbours celebrate Passover, as they will on Friday,

They say a prayer in which parents tell their children

“Because of what the Lord did for me

When I came out of Egypt.”

They say this prayer

Because the story is personal.

It happened to them.

It doesn’t matter that the people Israel actually came out of Egypt

More than 3500 years ago.

It is still the story

Of what the Lord did

For each and every person

Today.

Which is why it is so important

That today, Palm Sunday,

As we read the Passion Gospel

And relive Jesus’s trial, sentencing, and death,

We play the part of the crowd.

Because honestly?

That is the likeliest position

We each would have occupied

Back in the day

As this story was first being lived through.

Just like that ancient crowd,

We welcome Jesus in

With palms and processions

With hosannas

And proclamations of his kingship.

Like them,

We are so excited to see Jesus

Give us everything we long for:

Freedom from Rome,

Whoever Rome is in our hearts,

Peace and security,

The restoration of a long-lost glory.

Maybe the assurance that we’re the ones

Who’ve gotten it right all along – ha ha! Now they’ll see.

And, like that crowd,

We are so ready to turn on Jesus

The moment that following him seems dangerous,

Or even just

Inconvenient.

The moment he fails to meet

Our expectations.

Palm Sunday is one of my favourite days in Holy Week,

Precisely because this quick change is so important.

This lightning fast shift

From Hosanna

To Crucify.

It is crucial that we remember

How quickly we would

How quickly we have

Betrayed Jesus.

It is essential that we remember this story

With ourselves as part of the crowd.

Not least, of course, because historically,

Blaming “the Jews” for Jesus’s death

Has been a misreading of history

Anti-Semitic,

And violently wrong.

Not least, of course, because in our own history,

We too have crucified

Lynched

And executed

Many innocents

Because they failed to meet our expectations.

But especially

Because as we sink in

To the story of what the Lord has done for us

When we came out of our metaphorical Egypt,

Our slavery to Sin and Death,

We allow ourselves to reckon with the weight

Of how much, exactly, God has done for us.

Of his gift of salvation

Offered to all,

Even those

Who called for him

To be crucified.

I invite you, then,

To the observance of Holy Week.

Join us in the Upper Room on Thursday,

At Jesus’s final meal with his friends,

When he washed their feet

And commanded them to love one another.

Sign up to wait

In the Garden of Gethsemane

As he prays through the night

Before his arrest.

On Friday, venerate the wood of the Cross

On which hung the Saviour of the world.

Walk behind him as he goes to Golgotha,

As we introduce children to the Way of the Cross.

And on Saturday night,

Come and wait at his Tomb.

Hear the ancient stories of God working out our salvation

Throughout recorded time and history.

Renew your baptismal vows

As we welcome a new member to join us

In walking through the Red Sea

And into the new light of the resurrection.

If you have never observed the full Holy Week before,

Make the time this year.

I promise,

You will not complete it unchanged.

For as we welcome Easter morning,

We who have remembered the stories

Emerge from the Tomb with Jesus

Proclaiming new life

For all

Even us

Who once called out

Crucify!

Amen.

1st Sunday in Lent

Let us pray.

Lord, our adversary prowls like a lion.

But you are a God who steps into the arena.

Who does not leave us on our own.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

……………….

On Ash Wednesday, we gathered to mark our heads

With ashes and with dust.

We remembered that we are going to die.

It’s a weird thing to do

With one’s Wednesday night, isn’t it?

“What’d you do last night?”

“Oh, nothing special.

Just put dirt on my head

And remembered I’m going to die one day, you?”

There’s something powerful about it as a ritual, though.

It’s so compelling that strangers at bus stations and on thoroughfares

Find themselves drawn to participate,

Even when they don’t know exactly what it means

Or why they’re doing it.

It’s visceral.

You can feel the dirt spreading on your forehead

As surely as dirt will be dropped on your casket one day.

We don’t talk like that very often,

Perhaps because we’d rather not imagine that unthinkable future.

That, as Sarah Condon writes,

Devastating impossibility that always happens.

Death gets shoved aside, often.

We are asked to die neatly in special hospice centres

Set aside for the purpose

And within 6 months our family members will be told,

“Oh gosh, surely you’ve moved on by now, right?”

When I served in the Peace Corps in a small village in northwestern Ukraine

Just 30 kilometers from the Polish border,

Death was right in the middle of things.

A whacking great war memorial made up most of the town centre

And everybody knew somebody who’d died in the war

If not in the military

Than in the famine

In the Holocaust

In the aftermath.

When my Ukrainian tutor’s husband was tragically killed,

His funeral wasn’t just open casket

It was open bier.

We set him on a platform

And after the funeral

We loaded him up on a flatbed truck

And processed behind it to the cemetery

Where he was buried

Among rainbow coloured streamers.

The Orthodox have a hymn they sing on such occasions

“Receive, O earth,

The body formed of you

By the hand of God

And again returning to you as its mother.”

Ashes to ashes.

Dust to dust.

Earth to earth.

Everyone dies.

Even Jesus.

Death seems close to Jesus in this story of the temptation in the wilderness.

He’s out in the wilderness

Away from the crowds that surrounded John

Baptizing in the Jordan River.

His humanness feels especially apparent.

He’s hungry, Luke tells us.

Our God

Feels hunger.

He’s dirty, no doubt.

He’s got sand clinging to him everywhere

As he waits for whatever insight

The Holy Spirit is trying to show him

Out there in the wilderness.

And then the devil turns up.

Isn’t that just always the way?

Always kicking you when you’re down.

And he tests Jesus

With three temptations:

First, with material comfort.

An end to his very human pains.

Second, with glory and authority,

The ability to do whatever he wants.

Third, with proof of his status

As the Son of God.

That always strikes me, every year,

That the devil begins his taunts with this insidious word “IF.”

“IF you are the Son of God.”

Which implies that maybe even Jesus

Isn’t entirely sure yet

Of who he is

And who God is calling him to be.

Down here in this very human muck

Feeling these very human feelings

It would be easy to doubt

Even if he did remember

The glory he’d set aside.

That’s the really extraordinary thing about Jesus, I think.

That, though he was in the form of God,

He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped

Clung to

Taken advantage of,

But emptied himself

To come and join us down here on the earth.

With dirt on his forehead.

And even when the devil

Made him question

If he even really was the Son of God anymore

He didn’t take the bait.

He didn’t abandon us in the dirt.

We worship a God

Who gets down in the muck where we live

Even when it’s awful

Even when it’s dirty and gross and visceral and physical and tragic and heartbreaking

And who stands in the brink

When the devil comes to call

And says “Yes, I am the Son of God.

Not in spite of this but because of this.

Because I am down in the dirt with my people.”

God does not run away from us in the difficult times.

God does not ask us to suffer neatly

Away

Far from Him

So that nobody has to think about how the changes and chances of this life

Are too often a devastating impossibility

That always happens.

God joins us in the dirt.

He hungers and he thirsts.

And ultimately the earth He created

Receives his body

As a mother.

This Lent, as Jan Richardson writes,

“Let us be marked

Not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

Not for shame.

Let us be marked

Not for false humility

Or for thinking

We are less

Than we are

But for claiming

What God can do

Within the dust

Within the dirt,

Within the stuff

Of which the world

Is made.”

Our God makes beautiful things out of dust.

Our God chose to become dust

With us

And held to it even when the devil tormented him for it.

Because he loves we who are his image

That much.

Amen.