Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
March 18, 2018
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I remember well the birth of my three boys. I was present and involved in all of them. Not quite like Karisse, mind you, but as much as a nervous young father can be. I remember all the stages: Going into labor, the birthing process itself, and the joy, awe and fear of bringing home a little one and the processes of healing that take place. I remember the stages, but I don’t speak of them that way. I speak of them as “The birth of my son.” Stages and all, it’s all of a piece. I think about it all in terms of the changes in our lives that took place, the larger, over-all picture of what happened. It’s about the whole trajectory of the development of our family.
During Lent we have been talking about the spirituality of Holy Week. We have talked about the tension of Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, we have talked about the events of the Triduum, those three days from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Sunday. We have unpacked them as a process of transformation. Now it’s time to go back to the start, as it were, and look at the whole week as one event of sacred time and sacred space.
Our Gospel lesson today was taken from the Gospel of John. John can help us in this process, for he has one word for the whole event from Triumphal Entry to—well, he really means through to the Ascension. He calls it Jesus’ “glorification.” Today’s sermon is about the whole event. We won’t go so far as the Ascension, much less Pentecost, because they deserve their own treatment, but we are going to step back and see the whole week of Holy Week in light of the trajectory of sacred history.
Where do we start with Sacred History? We’re going to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, don’t you think? (thank you, Rogers and Hammerstein!) We’re going to talk about how it all came about. The Hebrew origin stories will serve us, though we see them through a Christian lens.
The creation of the world is the divine act of God, who, being community in and of the divine being, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, overflows in loving self-giving in the creation of the world. We and all that exist, exist because God is love, and love is generative (like in the making of our family,) and love is relational (as in the life of our family.) But there’s a hitch. Love is only love if it is freely given and freely received, as it is in the godhead. We had to have the option of choosing selfishness instead, and of course, we do it, not only Adam and Eve, but each and every one of us. The result is the opposite of relationship: alienation. We find ourselves alienated from the God who is the source of our existence, one another, and the created order around us. Our egos grab control, and we find ourselves struggling with ourselves, the more superficial ego claiming to be the whole show, and the deeper, more authentic “us” that knows better. And so, we mistreat one another and the earth, alienating everyone and everything further, and finding ourselves adrift, the anchor chain to our divine grounding broken and hanging limp.
But God loves creation, so, the divine plan comes forth to reconcile all things back to our true nature, that is in harmony with God, the ground of our being. God is out to grab the anchor chain and set things right again. And so, we hear about God through prophets and sages through the centuries. The Hebrew ones are recorded in the Old Testament. Some of the things recorded in the Old Testament don’t sound very divine from our 21st century perspective, but at the time, and in terms of the people whose story is being told, it reflects the vision of God that they had. We also hear about God through sages of other faiths, who also tell of a common core of moral valuing, whose essence is captured in the Golden Rule. The ego, when it runs the show, gets us into trouble. Being in loving, self-giving relationship is our truest calling as human beings.
Finally, God shows up in the flesh. Jesus is born, lives, teaches, heals and performs miracles, but it’s too much for those in power, and they crucify him. The one who came to reconcile us, in whom we Christians see the nature of God revealed, pushed away, precisely because he was who he said he was. The accusations were true, the punishment was a lie. And so, the punishers (you and I) condemn ourselves.
But how do you keep the author of life in the grave? Love is stronger than hate, life is ultimately stronger than death. All pain is redeemable and has redemption as its final end. Forgiveness is granted for our self-condemnation. In a sense we knew what we were doing, for we rejected he who was divine, but in another sense, we did not know what we were doing, for we had no idea of the transcendent power of love compared to hatred and selfishness. And in the end God has won all around, for redemption is greater than innocence, heaven is more glorious than Eden.
And we are taught the two great spiritual virtues. The God of heaven, the transcendent one, the all-wise, in whom all time is but a single great divine Now, opens up the deeper truths of existence to us to teach us wisdom. In God the ego takes its proper place, and all is seen to be a unity in diversity. The God of earth, born of a woman, who lives among us as one of us, yet in whom is seen the heart of the ever-living Father, gives his very life for us, teaches us compassion. In God others take their proper places in our lives, and all are seen to be precious. God of transcendent wisdom, and God of imminent compassion: we learn both through the events of this week. As the reading from Jeremiah promises, God’s law is written on our hearts.
Where does that leave us? There is one particular resurrection story that I think is especially enlightening. It is the story of the two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, on the way to Emmaus on the afternoon of Resurrection Sunday. In this story the whole of the week and its implications are seen: the shock of Palm Sunday that lingers in these two as they recount the story, the living in the tension, not knowing what to think, the dismay at the death of the one in whom their hopes were lodged, and the sense of emptiness and betrayal they felt. Into that loss, that profound alienation from all they held dear, walks Someone. They do not recognize him, but obviously he knows more than they do about the REAL story. Their hearts burn, on the edge of a new kind of wisdom and new depths of compassion. They invite him in. They offer the profound welcome, “Come, eat with us, stay with us.” As he rises to break the bread the stranger disappears and they know that they have seen the Christ. I don’t believe that if you had a camcorder there you would record anyone vanishing from view. I believe that they suddenly recognize another believer. He who had been a stranger is now a brother—the stranger disappears and in his place is one who has shown them that now the risen Christ is known around the table, in the breaking of the Bread. Voila, the Church! We are the community of the Risen Christ, the ones who know him in the breaking of the bread, the sacrament of the Altar, and the fellowship of the believers around a common meal, and any time we join forces in Christ’s name to be Christ in the world.
When you look at Holy Week as a piece, especially the Triduum, you get the Church, you get you and me, you get the family of God in Christ. Here we are, folks, born of water and the Spirit, products of the events we come to know in this most holy of times and in the most sacred of spaces. The world has shifted and all is different now, truer, wiser and more compassionate.