Palm Sunday, Year C, Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Minneapolis
Christ Bearer, Cross Carrier
I was part of a conversation this week about the use of the phrase “leaves behind” when used in obituaries or other references to relatives and friends of those who have died. The core of the complaint about this language is that it creates a sense of abandonment--as if death were somehow a choice someone made and that all that remains is a the loss without any record of the love that will always be or the life that was lived.
The language we use around death is problematic that way, we seem to want to pretty it up, sugar coat it, take away the awful reality that dead is dead. It is not sleep, it is not a passing, it is death. And, that is part of what we are witnessing to this week. Jesus dies. The former king of glory who we proclaim to Jerusalem has become a murder victim of the state--and there we will stand at an empty cross and a full tomb.
But, when we think about this, about this loss and this death--is the theme one of abandonment or is it one of perpetual and constant companionship? Are we left behind, or are we formed and followed, nurtured and lifted by the life we have witnessed and the love we will always carry?
In some way, I think the juxtaposition we have in Palm Sunday gifts us with the opportunity to reconfigure our notions of death. When death arrives for those we love we forever carry them with us, their legacy, their hopes, their dreams, our hopes and dreams for them...we carry those. And in carrying those things into the world we may find ourselves transforming the world.
One of the traditions many churches observe today is the singing of the hymn "All Glory Laud and Honor". However, there is an additional verse which was included in this hymn until the 17th century. Now, I will warn you, the verse can be a bit giggle inducing to our modern ears, but I think the giggles are worth the risk as it carries an important message.
"Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,
And we the little ass,
That to God’s holy city
Together we may pass."
And we the little ass,
That to God’s holy city
Together we may pass."
Okay, are all of your giggles out? Now, the reason I shared this verse is that I want us to consider--what does it mean to carry Jesus into Jerusalem? It is where he will meet his death, but it is also to be where he will triumph. What does it mean to be the one to carry Jesus into the world. We become the vehicle, the means by which Jesus is made manifest in the world...we are the conveyance to the encounter.
In order for the people of the city to meet Jesus, we must carry Jesus into the city.
And, what will the folks who encounter Jesus see...
Will they see empty symbol? Pomp and circumstance with no substance? Or will they see something else?
Will they see a world transformed? Will they see a proclamation of freedom and rejoice at a man whose death ties us together in a web of life? Will they see us carrying Christ by feeding the hungry, offering freedom to the captive, rejoicing to the sorrowful?
Who will this Christ be that we carry into the city?
Much of our time and energy in church, is spent IN church. I am well aware of the commitment so many of you have made to what happens within these walls--important and blessed work. But, part of our call as Christians is to step beyond the walls, what we do in here matters because of how the world “out there” will be transformed.
Now, I am also well aware that we will not always agree on what that work out in the world will be...and I do not presume to tell you what either your personal or collective mission is. But, I do want to share with you what many of our bishop’s and laity in the church have discerned as the place where we as a church need to carry Jesus.
So, first let me start with a little bit about me...and I start here because when we discern our call to mission the question of who we are and where we come from interacts with where we are now and who we have become.
When I was twelve, my father gave me a gun. It was a major right of passage in my family. We relied on hunting to stretch the grocery budget and it was a sport that brought my father a great deal of joy--something he wanted to share with us. However, it was made very, very clear that with that gift there were some obligations--hunter safety classes being one of them. It had also been drilled into us from a very young age that guns were never, ever to be pointed at another human being or anything you did not want or intend to kill. Gun play was forbidden...and after the accidental shooting death of my father’s best friend during a hunting trip, we were painfully aware of the consequences of even inadvertent carelessness. Owning guns came with responsibilities and gun ownership in our family was a privilege that could be taken away and had limits.
So, to me, given my time and my place as a former gun owner and a member of my family, this notion of limits seems like an obvious component of gun ownership. Further, as a Christian, standing against violence seems like a logical extension of my faith, particularly as we are confronted with the violent crucifixion of Jesus.
Recent news in the Episcopal church has shared some of the concrete ways in which Episcopalians are taking a stand against violence. The Episcopal Cafe detailed the Diocese of Chicago’s CROSSwalk, a four mile procession through the city from St. James’ Episcopal Cathedral to Stroger Hospital--where many of the victims of gun violence end up. Described as both a lamentation and a call to action, the walk was led by Bishop Jeff Lee who called for participants to become "agents of Easter," and told the crowd of more than 1000 people that, when it came to gun violence, perhaps they were "the answer to God's prayer."
In an invitation to gather and a press release from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs we are told that this coming Holy Monday, "a group of Bishops, priests, deacons and laity of the Episcopal church will be walking the stations of the Cross throughout Washington D.C. Stopping in front of memorials, government buildings and art installations they will be offering prayers for an end to violence, the culture of violence, and the social and economic conditions that spawn violence."
“The death dealing realities of violence are brought home to us as Christians when we recall the crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross this Holy Week,” said Bishop Douglas. “Walking the Way of the Cross invites us, compels us, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” Bishop Mariann Budde of D.C. (and formally of this diocese), writes “The church is called to comfort those who mourn, but if we do not also urge our lawmakers to take steps to reduce the number of people who are shot to death each year, our words of comfort ring hollow,”
These are folks who are carrying their witness of the resurrection into the city, a witness that I believe cannot be held without also bearing witness to the crucifixion. Christ was a victim of violence, and people in whom Jesus lives and breathes are killed each and every day. In these public actions Episcopalians are carrying Christ to the city...they are Christ bearers and cross carriers bringing to life in the here and the now, Christ’s call to put down our swords.
This carrying of Christ and Cross both is where we stand so clearly today on Palm Sunday. We carry the living Christ AND we carry the cross today.
When we lose our friend Jesus this week we are called to bear witness to his life by continuing it in the work of our life. Dead on the Cross, living and made manifest in us...
Christ bearers, Cross carriers.
Where in this city are we needed to bring the glory of the Christ we carry?
Christ bearers, Cross carriers...