Sunday, April 01, 2012
Sermon: Palm Sunday in your City, in your Heart.
This morning I want to start with a story.
In March of 1972, a bit over forty years ago, my grandmother, Eva Storey, came closer to dying. She was just eighty, had been dealing with leukemia for several years, with a few remissions and one time what seemed like a miracle recovery, but now it was coming closer to the end. Her eldest child, my uncle, flew out from the East Coast to be with her and I remember, as if it were yesterday, the day he carried her in his arms, followed by his younger sisters, my mother and my aunt, across the lawn to the car to take her to the hospital for the last time.
I stood watching from the kitchen window. I might've been crying. But two things happened that I remember: first, something like the music of the Sanctus, a sense of bells and music sung by some great choir; “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” And, second, a conviction that came into the middle of my pain and felt like sunlight in the center of that dark day. “Thank God,” something in me said so deeply, “Thank God we matter this much.”
Now the moment that touches me from the Gospel for this Palm Sunday is at the very end, when Jesus looks "around at everything" before heading out to Bethany with the twelve. I wonder what he saw: and my hope is that he sees, everything, all of us, exactly as we are, in all our living and dying, and he knew – he knows – how much it matters. And that gives me great comfort.
I don't know about you, but there's been lots of living and dying in my life this year, this Lent. Early in the year my best friend John Davis' father died after a long life. His family has adopted me as their American son so I was part of the mourning and preparation for the funeral, and that time reminded me of deaths in my own family: father, mother, brother, nephew; good friends who died too young and too soon of heart conditions and HIV, suicide and substance abuse. And then last month I spent a few days around Numurkah after the floods hit; saw people whose homes and hopes had been flooded out, washed away: great courage and great sadness. Then two weeks ago I got a call from California that my niece, Lisa, had passed away after courageously living with cancer for several years: not yet fifty, loving husband, two children still in their teens, a beloved younger sister; and her mother at her bedside at the last. Then finally last week, Fr Glyn Reese of St John's, Wodonga, who I am proud to call a friend, found that his elderly parents had been murdered in their home in Johannesburg, South Africa. Glyn and his son Anthony flew over there right away, his wife Liesl and daughter Laura are joining them for the funeral tomorrow night. Too much life and too much death.
And I think Jesus sees all that as he looks around Jerusalem, sees all our fears and anger and anxiety about death, see all the trials and tragedy of our everyday lives and he walks right into the middle of it all: maybe he even carries us along like an elder son into the middle of that very noisy city. And even though it might not feel like it, I think there is some good news there.
The English theologian, Austin Farrer, writes that we are invited to exchange our living death for Jesus' dying life. We are invited to stop holding on so tight to our fears and our hopes and our tensions and our ideas about the times we live in; and instead to have faith that Jesus will take us in his arms and guide us through the middle of it all. Now (as they used to say) that's the good news; and the bad news is that we can only get there from here, from exactly where we are, by being exactly who we are: being mixed bags of fear and hope and hate and love and longing and death and life, just being who we are as the Lord hugs us close in the life of Christ and takes us right through the middle of each and every death into the heart of God's eternal life.
So the events of the coming week in our church calendar give us a kind of circle tour of all the sites of the human condition: we see power politics and cunning betrayal, compassion and community, virtue and violence, death and resurrection. And, for each of us, that will resonate with our own histories and hopes, stories we remember, people we miss, things we fear. Holy week can be a difficult way to follow. But Jesus knows this route, looks and sees all there is in Jerusalem, in every city, in any city and country, in our own homes and hearts: so that nobody and nothing shall be outside the loving embrace of his ultimate love.
Sometimes it's not easy to take this in. We might not always think that the universe could be knit together so carefully, we might not be able to hope that the holiest One will hear our fear and hope and loneliness. But we are called to have faith that Christ holds us close through these crises, these dangerous opportunities, that Jesus will take us through every turn, every tight corner of the human journey from birth to death and beyond, will take everybody everywhere, and bring us home, to what we call heaven to what we hold in hope in our hearts at the last.
That's why we call it Good Friday, because God meets a every needless tragic death, all the violence and the shortcuts of the city, all the separation from what we care for, and Christ carries all that home in love.
So this week stay close to your Bible and prayer book, to your church and community, to all your friends, feelings and your fears, and to your hope and your heart too: because the heart of God, the God of love we see in Jesus Christ, journeys to Jerusalem to meet His death and to bring us life. And we must thank God that it matters this much.