Bless their hearts!
You can put whatever emphasis or intonation with that standard Southern stock phrase that you want. But I am thinking about the decision the Episcopal Church made somewhere along the way to slam together the entry into Jerusalem with the crucifixion. One minute, we're singing, "Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" And then some 20 minutes later, Jesus is getting nailed to the cross.
That isn't how it happened. And I'm sorry the church seems to think we have to do it in this way in order for the people to have Holy Week so neatly wrapped up in one service that they don't have to live out this week with intentionality and focus on the steps that led to the cross. I'm afraid it robs the power of Holy Week in an effort to make it all "convenient".
And so, rather than focus on the Passion Gospel, I'm going to stick with the other readings, each of which give us something to ponder deeply. Certainly I found myself in tears as I read through the Isaiah passage that I was going to have to deliver to the St. John's congregation at 11:15. The events of last week were reminders of what has been my life ever since the morning of November 11, 2007:
The Lord GOD has given methe tongue of a teacher,that I may know how to sustainthe weary with a word.Morning by morning he wakens--wakens my earto listen as those who are taught.The Lord GOD has opened my ear,and I was not rebellious,I did not turn backward.
There have been days when I wanted to rebel and run away. But I can't because "morning by morning he wakens my ear" with a song, a psalm, a Scripture passage, a thought. This adventure of blogging began in December of 2007 as a means of expressing those things that have come to me as I travel a path toward God. Insights, or indignation at oppression, have been with me in the moments when I'm waking, going to sleep, or waiting at traffic lights. I can't escape God, or what I think is God, constantly nudging me along. More and more in this past month I have felt myself moving in a direction that Paul talks about in his letter to the Phillipians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.
Am I sure about this?
My mentor posed some tough questions this week in her sermon: What if Jesus requires more of me than I can give? What if following Jesus really costs me my life as I know it, my well deserved, hard-earned security?
Yes, what if that is the case? What if I have to take some bold steps in faith and stretch further than I have at this point? So often it seems to really follow Christ closely means we have to walk through some rings of fire in our lives and trust that we won't get burned to a crisp in the process. Following Christ means that we have to be brave. We have to be willing to walk into places that challenge us, enter into conversations with people who try our patience, and we have to stand when others wish we'd simply sit down and shut up. I think about the courage of those in England who were under enormous pressure to vote for the Anglican Covenant because that's what the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted. Eighty percent of the English bishops have voted for the Covenant, but the clergy and laity split 50-50 on adoption. It must be very difficult to oppose one's bishop on a matter of church politics. And yet, they have stood up for what they believe to be the direction that the spirit is moving the Communion.
I also think of the countless number of saints, known and unknown, who have advocated for a more inclusive vision of what the Christian church should look like. Their positions have not always been popular and have often made the people uncomfortable, even angry. Yet, having the mind of Christ in them, they continue to articulate a message of what it is to be in Love. And in Love there are no exemptions, no black-out dates, and no out-clauses. No matter how much we may not like someone or some group, it is never our place to decide if that person or group is worthy of inclusion at the Lord's table because we are all guests, and the host is generous.
Each one of us will have this week to consider if we are going to go the distance with Christ, even if only metaphorically speaking, and be at the cross on Friday. We will each have our own experience of this week in which God came down to teach us to live in Love with one another and we, in our fearfulness and resistance, killed Love. Will you be there on Friday when they crucified my Lord, nailed him to the tree, pierced him in the side, laid him in the tomb?