Sermon begins at 28:30
On Thursday, Mother Becca, Deacon Kellie, and I joined many of our sisters and brothers in ordained ministry at All Saint’s for the annual service commonly called the Chrism Mass, in which we renew our ordination vows and receive the specially blessed oil used at baptisms. Kellie has a real job, so she had to drive herself back and forth from Leitchfield, but Becca and I rode together and enjoyed a couple of hours to touch base on life and our collective ministry here at Christ Episcopal Church. One of the topics of our conversation was how the lives of associates and rectors are similar and different. There are certain freedoms that are unique to each position, and there are certain limitations that come with each title as well. That conversation got me thinking about how my life has changed in the two-plus years that I’ve been your rector.
One thing that quickly came to mind is how often I’ve uttered the phrase, “It’s been a week,” since leaving Alabama. Sometimes, on only mildly crazy weeks, I’ll say it on Thursday. Sometimes, like the week before Holy Week, it is quite possible to hear me say, “It’s been a week” at our Monday afternoon staff meeting. It’s a feeling I think we can all understand. Whether you are a first-grade student, a tenth-grade teacher, lawyer, nurse, mechanic, priest, or full-time volunteer, some weeks just feel full – as if you’ll never stop running from one thing to the next. Sometimes, the only way to describe what you’ve experienced is “It’s been a week.”
It’s been a week since we began the liturgy for The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday fifteen minutes ago. As we started this service, we recreated liturgically the experience of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon. Over on the west side of the city, Pilate entered riding a war horse, surrounded by chariots and heavily armed soldiers, hearing shouts of “Hail Caesar, the son of god, the king of kings, and the source of peace” Meanwhile, Jesus entered through the eastern gate, riding a donkey as a rag-tag group of disciples pulled palm branches out of the trees, laid their cloaks on the ground, and cried out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” In that story, we heard clues that this is going to be a week; especially when Luke mentions that some Pharisees had come to see what all the commotion was about. When the Pharisees realized that Jesus’ disciples were putting him on par with Caesar, and calling him the Son of God, they got really, really nervous. “Tell them to hush,” they begged of Jesus. “If these were silent, even the stones would cry out,” Jesus replied. As they say in Lower Alabama, “It’s fixin’ to be a week.”
During the course of the next five days, Jesus went to the Temple and turned over the tables of the money changers. He called out the injustice of the Temple system that was built on the backs of the faithful poor. He answered repeated attempts to challenge his authority. He taught lessons and told parables that directly contradicted with what the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes were trying to accomplish. He lifted up the lowly widow and her two copper coins, while calling into question the large gifts given by those for whom it was less than a drop in the bucket. As each day unfolded, the tension between Jesus and the powers-that-be grew, until finally, they conspired with Judas, one of the twelve, to betray him. With all kinds of false accusations, they attempted to convince Pilate that Jesus needed to be killed, and when the crowd just wouldn’t relent, they finally succeeded in having Jesus put to death on a cross as a disgraced revolutionary.
It’s been a week. Or, rather, we know it is about to be a week. A full week. A difficult week. A Holy Week. Every day this week, you will have the opportunity to walk the way of the cross with Jesus and one another. It begins at noon, Monday through Thursday, where we will hear from different preachers in different contexts of how the pressure-filled relationship between Jesus and the powers-that-be bubbled and boiled, until it finally came to a head. On Thursday evening, we will hear Jesus once again offer us the new mandate of the Kingdom of God, that we love one another. Through the washing of feet, an act of profoundly humble service, we will re-enact the symbol of the self-sacrificial love that Jesus offered to his disciples, while we also remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper as the central act of our devotion. Overnight, members of the congregation will keep watch, like Peter at the charcoal fire, as we wait for Friday, when we will remember the deepest act of love anyone can offer – the laying down of one’s life for a friend.
As the lessons for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday show us, it’ll be a week – a long and challenging week, and yet, it is a week that we ought not skip through just to get to the joy of Easter. There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no Resurrection without the challenges of Holy Week. And so, we pray that in walking the way of the sorrow, we might find it to be the way of life; that through walking with Jesus toward the cross, we might also share in the resurrection life. It’ll be a week, dear friends, but I can’t wait to walk it with you. Amen.