Sheepscott Community Church March 28, 2010
Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Philippians 2: 5-11
Luke 22: 14 -23: 56 The Passion
Descent into Holy Week
We are descending ––and that is the word I want to use––indicative of depth––we are descending into the holiest week of the Christian year, when we remember and act out the central mysteries of our faith.
Today initiates that week, as we, with the crowd in Jerusalem, a great mix of all kinds of people––young, old, rich, poor, the religious, the not so religious, those of one way of thinking, those of another––all together on the common ground of hailing Jesus with hosannas, with palms, spreading them in the path of the donkey he rode as he descended into the city. The end of his life, and in a real way, the consequent beginning of ours, lay before him in a week of fraught days, and we will live out those days together with him.
On Thursday evening at 7 we will be doing in remembrance of Jesus what he asked: sharing the bread and wine––for us this Maundy Thursday, it will be matzo and grape juice. We will share that sacramental meal in commemoration of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he died.
On Friday evening at 7 we will witness the Passion as it is sung by the choir, who with friends will render Theodore Dubois’ The Seven Last Words of Christ.
On Sunday, we will celebrate the resurrection of the Lord in a sunrise service at 7 at the Hill Church, and at our regular service at 10 here in the Valley Church. There will be a breakfast at 8 to ensure the strength all will need for rejoicing.
But what about Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week? Some traditions observe the entire week as Holy Week, and each of the days is marked by the reading of specific scriptures. For those who want to observe the week win the company of the universal church, scripturally speaking, or for their own private devotions, I have listed the readings for Monday through Wednesday on the back of the Order of Service.
Besides reading scriptures, how can we observe these days heading toward Easter? Recall the image from last week’s gospel of Mary, friend of Jesus and sister to Martha and Lazarus, as she poured out that precious spikenard on the feet of Jesus and then dried his feet with her hair. I asked you at that time to consider Mary’s action as a prefiguring of Jesus pouring out the last of his blood at the point of the centurion’s spear.
I further asked you to consider pouring out what is most precious to you at or onto the feet of Jesus, figuratively speaking, to hold nothing back from God, any more than Jesus did. What we may need to pour out may be a negative thing––envy, fear, slander, greed, lust, sloth––name your sin or obsession. We all have them. Or what we have to pour out as an offering may as well be something good or positive to which we attach more importance than we do to our relationship with God. I’m telling you, as I have before, God is relentless and insatiable, wanting to be first in our lives before all things and all people. Does it sound like I’m talking about personality? Well, I am. A personal God who asks everything of us, bit by bit, stone by stone, until the wall of our defenses crumbles and we are confronted with the living God who reveals to us our own selves and the purpose and meaning of our lives.
And that would answer the big question behind our fear of pouring out everything before God: If I let go of what I think is my meaning, how I define myself, who will I be? Whenever we give over to God what in fact is more important to us than God, God will not be outdone in generosity. We will be given our lives back, refreshed and renewed, and that, a hundred fold. But it does mean the prying back of our fingers, one by one, from the death grip in which we hold onto our lives, so that with open hands we can readily let go of and receive. Not an easy thing to do.
Why I bring this up in the context of this week is because Holy Week is a perfect opportunity to give up to God what we know we’ve been wanting to give up, get rid of, be no longer obsessed with––guilt, unforgiveness, judgment of others. And it’s also the time to meet the challenge of surrender to God that never seems to go away.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, let us think and pray about our relationship with God. Let us ask for discernment about what we need to look at closely. On Thursday let us come to the table to be nourished by communion in the presence of our worshipping community here at church. On Friday as we approach the noon hour, the time that Jesus traditionally was nailed to the cross, let us step aside in our mind, or go to the place where we meet God and lift up to Jesus whatever that obstacle, that block in relationship between ourselves and God is. Let us ask Jesus to take it up on the cross with him and then, Let It Go. Another way to do that is with the community on Friday night. Be fully present as the choir and Carroll lift up theirs and our lives in music before God in the sufferings of Jesus.
We will then rise up on Easter morning with joy. It is inevitable. We need to let go of our idea of what we think is our life in order for God to show us what our true life is and can be. It may end up and likely will end up being the same life, but having passed through the cleansing fire of the truth that is the Spirit of God, and which we experience upon surrender, it will be a hallowed life with a greater depth of meaning than we have known heretofore. Even though on the surface it may look the same to others, we will know the difference.
All of this is interior prayer, the vertical between ourselves and God. To complete the image of the cross, we need the horizontal cross piece between ourselves and others, whereby we empty out in service, and that with a smile, a handshake, a nod of understanding. We are flesh and blood beings in a material world, made holy by the fact of creation and further, by incarnation. Now, here comes holy week. Take advantage of the opportunities it provides for quickening and deepening of your faith, for coming to know that indeed the resurrected Jesus lives. Amen.