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.

 

Maundy Thursday

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

……………….

Love one another.

It’s basically a cliché at this point.

We have all heard this commandment

That Jesus offers as new

So many times

That we’ve stopped listening to it.

Love one another.

What does that mean?

In some places, it has become so watered down,

So dumbed down,

As to basically mean

Be polite.

Be kind.

Don’t ACTIVELY seek to be a jerk to other people.

The commandment becomes less “love one another”

And more “don’t NOT love one another.”

It’s read as passive.

Weak.

Songs that praise “the power of love”

Are dismissed

As sentimental claptrap.

Politicians tell us that love is a luxury

For safer, more prosperous times.

In these times, it’s weak.

Because love makes you vulnerable.

When those who do evil know what you care about,

They know where to hurt you.

Safer, then, not to love.

Or only to love a few.

We had to put our dog down last month,

And I was hit with a grief that knocked me over,

Like I had been standing in the ocean and an unexpected wave had hit me

Right at the knees.

“Grief is the price we pay for love,”

People told me at the time,

Which just made me angry.

It felt like one of those bait and switch ad schemes

Where you’re hit with an unexpected bill

At the end of a holiday.

I was vulnerable.

I cared.

And while nobody was actively seeking to make me hurt,

It was tempting to retreat into cynicism.

To say “never again.”

To shut myself off from the possibility

Of paying that price in the future.

Because sometimes it feels like the only power love has

Is the power to hurt

Those who have willingly made ourselves vulnerable to it.

And so we see Peter,

Already bruised by never really knowing

What wild thing Jesus is going to do next –

Ride a donkey? Ok.

Throw the money changers out of the Temple? Uhhhhhh …..

Accept an expensive anointing from a woman that prefigures his burial?

Hold on, now. –

Peter resists this invitation

Into vulnerability.

Oh, the story is often told as a morality play on humility,

But I don’t actually think that’s what Jesus cares about.

Because you see,

Jesus is about die

For Peter’s sake.

That’s the price

That Jesus is willing to pay for love.

He is willing to die –

To literally die,

Painfully,

All alone,

Abandoned by his key followers,

Including Peter, who will deny even knowing him –

Because he loves.

And in so doing, Jesus will offer Peter a gift.

The kind Peter can never repay.

The gift

Of eternal life with him.

This makes Peter vulnerable.

Because what if Jesus changes his mind?

How can Peter trust

That Jesus’s love will endure?

Better to make sure that he’s earned his own way.

Now, I’m sure nobody here tonight has ever felt like Peter.

But if you ever have, then hear this:

Love is powerful.

If you don’t believe me, as Presiding Bishop Curry says,

Then just remember how it felt

When you first fell in love.

It might be a time when you found your romantic partner.

It might be the first time you held your child, or your grandchild.

It might not have anything to do with another person at all!

You might have fallen in love with a vocation,

Or a place.

How many watched the spire of Notre Dame de Paris fall

Earlier this week

And found themselves knocked over by grief they didn’t expect,

Grief as intense as for a person

Or a dog.

Grief is the price we pay for love,

We know all too well.

And,

We know that that love endures

Even through grief.

We know that love,

Real love,

Has the power to withstand

Even the most dreadful,

Wracking gasps of pain

And to come out the other side

Ready to keep on loving,

Like the cross that still stands

Inside the flame-gutted cathedral.

That’s power.

That is the rock upon which the wise man built his house.

That is the sure foundation of everything we hold dear,

Jesus Christ,

The cornerstone.

Because he loves us,

We are able to love one another.

Not a cheap, sentimental, passive love,

But active love.

The kind of love that costs us something.

It might be our status or position in society

As we take on the humiliating task of caring for those

Folks would rather forget about.

It might be money,

As we stop chasing material wealth

And dare to own less so that others might have more.

It might be life itself

As we declare that some things in this world are worth dying for.

Jesus says to the Peters around this table

That we are worth dying for.

And when we walk out on that water,

When we trust him enough

To accept that gift,

We will find that his love holds

Through every fire

And every storm.

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.