April 5 2020: Palm Sunday
Worship services are live on Facebook Sundays at 10 AM Pacific.
We praise you, O God,
for your redemption of the world.
Today, Jesus entered the Holy City of Jerusalem in triumph,
loudly proclaiming the kingdom of justice and peace,
as he was proclaimed Messiah and king
by those who spread garments and branches along the way.
Let us also raise our voices in victory,
that the hungry will be fed,
the naked clothed,
those who are silenced will cry out,
and all people may enter through the gates of holiness.
As this week continues, may we set down our palm branches,
and follow carrying a cross,
that, by dying and rising with Christ,
we too may enter into your kingdom.
Through him who reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
Of all the worship services that happen this time of year—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter—this is actually the one I think I’m missing the most. Palm Sunday is a great theatre moment, full of pageantry; you get to tell the people to shout in church and wave palm leaves, I like all of the songs, and ultimately, what I love about Palm Sunday is Jesus, hero of the people, making a scene in front of the uptight priests and Roman soldiers.
Only a week later, and those same crowds will be demanding that Pilate crucify him, which shows how quickly things can change in the course of a week.
But what I want to talk about right now is the moment when the Pharisees, probably fearing the arrival of Roman soldiers and the brutal crackdown on demonstrations and protests that come with it, ask Jesus to tell his disciples to stop. Stop singing. Stop praising God. Stop gathering.
We’ve been told to stop, and we have. For good reason, but the Pharisees also had good reason to be afraid. The Romans would violently supress any movement they thought was dissident, and Jesus’ movement was dissident.
We’re told to stop gathering, singing, and praising God for our health, for our own good. And so we have.
But what Jesus says next, I think is important for us to hear also; “Even if they were silent, the stones would shout out.”
For me, one of the big challenges of faith is understanding that I can’t do everything. I see us and God as being in a big partnership to make a better world. We have our part to play, and as faithful disciples of Jesus, that includes gathering as community, singing together, praying together, and then going out to love others. You know, the things churches do.
And now we can’t do any of that. We gather online, but we can’t shake each other’s’ hands or hug one another, we don’t see each other smile when we say hello; we don’t sing together and hear our voices blend. We don’t feed others with our weekly soup and a smile, we don’t bring people from different walks of life together in one place. All of the things that I think make this church great and wonderful, we aren’t doing right now. For me, I can’t speak with you except for over the phone or internet to hear how you’re doing; I can’t give you a piece of bread and tell you that it is the body of Christ, even if you really need Christ right now. It feels like, even though I have more work than ever to do right now, I can’t do my job.
To me, it feels like I’m letting down God by not being able to do my part. And I’m definitely one of those people who always feels like they’re not doing enough, so that only makes it worse. I want to be there in the parade; at the forefront, not afraid to do the things God asks of me, things that need to be done, to pay the cost of discipleship. So the hard part for me is the trust that even if I was silent, the stones will still shout out. That it’s okay to let go and let God. Some things aren’t under my control, and I have to trust God to fill in the rest.
That’s true every day, but especially now. We didn’t make a pandemic happen and we can’t make it suddenly stop; we only do what we’re doing to help it slow down. Right now, God doesn’t need us to sing and to gather, God needs us to stay home and be safe so that others are safe and the healthcare system isn’t overloaded. Sing at home, and trust God to sing with you. Pray for others, and trust God to be with them as you pray. God doesn’t need us to put on a community meal right now; God needs us to help others in new ways that keep us all safe, and trust God to help us find those new ways.
Most importantly, I think we have to trust God to keep us still in community. We’re limited by our human bodies and experiences, but the Holy Spirit is not. She keeps us together as children of God whether we’re able to gather or not. This is something I’ve always felt for those who, for whatever reason, can’t find a place in the church. Now it’s true for all of us. We have to trust God that her love for us does not depend on going to church every week, does not depend on singing the songs or coming forward for communion or putting money into the offering plate.
To me, the most important message of Holy Week; of the crucifixion on Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter Sunday, is that God is always with us. Even death cannot separate us from him, because in three days he just rises again. Faith—which as I’ve said is the living that we do, not the beliefs that we think—is more important than ever right now. Faithful living is being in isolation in body, but being in community in spirit. Faith means listening for the rocks that are singing all around us.
So I encourage you to reach out, and stay in touch with one another. Continue to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Let’s continue to be with each other in community despite the barriers. In a funny way, what I’ve experienced is that this is bringing us closer together than ever. Don’t forget those who may be left aside—people who were already isolated—and reach out to them as well. Where two or three are gathered, says Jesus, I am there; and he doesn’t say it has to be physically gathered.
The stones will shout, and we will once again be able to raise our voices. Amen.
April 9 2020: Maundy Thursday
Worship services are live on Facebook.
This is the day
that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God,
gave himself into the hands of those who would kill him.
This is the day
that Jesus gathered with his friends in an upper room.
This is the day that Jesus took a towel
and washed his disciples’ feet,
giving us an example that we should do to others.
This is the day
that Jesus gave us a new commandment,
to love one another.
we are with you, as you are with us,
when we love one another,
when we serve one another,
when we break bread together.
Until we break bread with you in the Kingdom of Heaven,
may we share with others the feast that you set for us.
We pray in you, who lives and reigns with God our Parent,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit: one God, now and forever. Amen.
What is so special about this night?
I’d like to do something different for this sermon. I mean, as far as scripture goes, this is pretty clear. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you; by this everyone will know you are my disciples.” He washes Peter’s feet as a servant even though he is the master, the teacher.
And sure, we can all think of Christians who set an example of scorn, hatred, and exclusion rather than love, and rather than serve seem to think that everyone should serve them. But this is the command Jesus give us.
As Madeline L’Engle said, we do not bring others to Christ be berating them or telling them how right we are and how wrong they are; we do so by setting an example; by being a light so lovely they want to know the source of it.
Love others; serve others. Especially those who are at the bottom, who are outcasts or alone. That is the only way to follow Jesus. No amount of prayer, no amount of reading the Bible, monetary giving, sexual purity, or whatever will make us good Christians except love and service.
So instead I want to talk about this; this thing that we do called Communion, or the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. And how that is service.
Strictly speaking, what we do is a re-enactment of the story of the Last Supper; Jesus and his disciples are at a Passover Seder where, as Jews, they remember and celebrate God freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Jesus takes bread and breaks it, saying, “This is my body.” He takes wine and says, “This is my blood.”
This means many different things; it’s a very symbolic action. In one sense, Jesus is comparing himself to everyday things. Bread is the most basic food, and people at the time would drink wine more than water, because it was safer. So I find it odd that in the protestant church we’ve gotten into the habit of doing this only rarely when Jesus does it with things people ate and drank every single day.
If Jesus had meant this to be “special,” in the way that we mean when we say things that only happen every so often are “special,” Jesus would’ve taken a piece of the Passover lamb. It would have been a more significant comparison; he is about to be crucified, we call him the Lamb of God for this reason.
Instead he takes bread. “Whenever you do this, remember me,” and that’s every day. Jesus is saying that he is with us every day, not just every once in a while.
And I think that’s what the church does, or should be doing, when we do this. We say to each and every person that takes is, Jesus is with you. In the most basic thing, in the food and drink we all need, spiritually sustaining us.
Somewhere in Christian history we unfortunately got the idea that this should be “special” not only in the way that going out to dinner is special – the way that something that only happens once in a while is special – but also in the way that first place in a race is “special” – the way that something that only a select few people have. The church has told people they’re not worthy to take communion; that you have to believe certain things or maintain a certain standard of behaviour.
Instead, this is special the way dinner with your family is special; this is special in the way everyone singing together in a crowd is special. It’s special when it happens as often as possible; it’s special when it includes everyone. It’s special because it is a sign of God’s love for us, which is special precisely because it is everyday and common. God is not special because of restrictions on Her love, whether restrictions of time or restrictions of people. God’s love is special because it is unrestricted.
Jesus gives us an example of his love by sharing food with everyone; even Judas. If Judas is good enough for his love, then so are you. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” If Jesus sets no requirements for his love, breaks bread with everybody regardless of how much of a good boy or girl they’ve been, then we have to as well.
This is a symbolic act that we do. We remember not just this night, but we remember everything that it means; all of God’s love is here on this table, for us. Not just for few, but for all.
In the Jewish Passover Seder, it’s traditional to have a child ask, “What is special about this night?” To hear again the tale of the liberation from slavery. Christ is our Passover, who liberates us from our bondage to ideas about worthiness, earning God’s love, being good enough.
Jesus’ new commandment, to love as he has loved us—to love the unloveable, to wash the feet of those who are supposed to be beneath you—is the only commandment that matters.
What is special about this night? What is so special about this bizarre ritual the church does? God’s love. That’s what’s special.
April 10 2020: Good Friday
Worship services are live on Facebook.
God of pain and death,
God of suffering and trial,
God of despair and grief,
we meet you at your cross.
Here, we find the brokenness of the world in your broken body,
we find the violence of the world in your spilled blood,
and we find the pain of the world in your cries of pain.
you came not to condemn but to save,
to heal the hurting and find the lost,
but we rejected you.
In our desire for power over others,
we hated your message of liberation.
In all of the crowds mocking you,
calling for your death,
we can hear our own voices.
When we say we do not care about our neighbour,
when we hate those who are different from us,
when we put on pretentions of piety and righteousness,
when we claim that God is on our side,
we are there, shouting “Crucify him!”
Help us instead to be like the thief crucified with you,
or like the women who did not flee from the cross.
May we not flee out of disgust or fear,
but instead bear witness,
because as people all over the world suffer under injustice and oppression,
you are there with them, with your cross, to save. Amen.
You know, as I did the Maundy Thursday service last night, I had a thought. I left out the traditional foot-washing part of the service, since I couldn’t think of how to do that online. But it also seemed a little odd in the context of what’s happening around us.
I admit, the whole social distance thing spiritually upsets me. It is, of course, what we must do, for our health and to protect others. But the Jesus I know was not afraid to be with those who were “unclean,” because they were sinners according to the law or because they had leprosy, or whatever other reason. He touched the untouchables of society. He healed them through his touch. He wasn’t afraid of disease or impurity.
So how do I connect to the Jesus who washed the feet of others, who touched lepers, and who dies on a cross?
But as Jesus said to his disciples only last night, “Where I am going you cannot follow.”
“I am with you.” To me, that’s the most important message of this moment. We don’t follow Jesus to this moment; he follows us. People are executed under an unjust empire, so Jesus is executed with them. People suffer, so Jesus suffers with them.
We can’t go into hospital rooms, so Jesus goes there. We can’t go into the homes of those who are isolated, so Jesus goes there.
There is no place where God’s love is not. Not even a place so horrible as the cross.
Jesus does the things we can’t do. When we can’t wash the feet of others, Jesus does. When we can’t stand before Pilate because power doesn’t want to let us tell truth to it, so Jesus does. When we can’t say to thieves and criminals, “Today, you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus does.
We can never truly understand the sufferings other go through, nor can others understand our suffering, but Jesus does.
Even despair, even the feeling of being far from God, alone and forgotten, Jesus understand.
The cross challenges us; we are uncomfortable with its imagery and we want to move past this moment onto Easter. But people live here, some live their whole lives here. Those who are victims of hatred, the poor, and people suffering from disease live here at the cross, and so Jesus is here.
Easter is for those who are willing to stand here in this moment. The women are the only ones who do not run from the cross, and it is to the women that the good news is given first.
So let us stay here awhile, at the foot of the cross, because God’s love is here right now. There is no place where God’s love is not. Amen.