In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us!
Were you in the chapel on Tuesday, June 29 – our last Eucharist in the chapel before the renovations? If so, you will have heard our brother James’ sermon in which he gave us that unusual but accurate translation of the opening words of John’s Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” John is reminding us of the story of the Exodus when God accompanied the children of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. God dwelt among them in a tent – the tent of meeting – at the edge of the camp.
Of all the days in Holy Week, this is the one which I find most poignant. On another significant occasion we have been told in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ “time has not yet come”. He was not yet ready. We were not yet ready. The world was not yet ready. God was not yet ready. But today, today all this is changed. Gathered there in the Upper Room with his disciples, Jesus declares “now!” “Now the Son of man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”
So what has changed? Why now? Why not before, or some other time, or even some other place? Why here? What now? This difference is that “it was night”; three of the coldest, loneliest words in Scripture …“it was night.” It was into the darkness and under the cloak of darkness that Judas went to do his deed of betrayal.
Is. 49-1-7/Ps. 71:1-14/1 Cor. 1:18-31/John 12:20-36
As Holy Week gets underway we have the sensation that something large, something very large, has been set in motion. And that there’s no stopping it. Even though we know how it all turns out—sort of—there’s a sense of both largeness and inevitability. So there’s nothing to do but to go with it. Nothing to do but to allow ourselves to be swept up in this enormous wave–again.
How large is the largeness of Holy Week? We just heard in this passage from John that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. “All people” is pretty large. But a variation in some of the ancient texts suggests something even larger. When I am lifted up I will draw all things, everything, the whole shebang, to myself. An exponential leap from all people to all things, the whole creation, the whole cosmos. What happens in Holy Week and Easter gathers up the entire cosmos in its energies.
We may remember the end of the Gospel of Mark where after his resurrection Jesus tells the disciples to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”. Not just to every human being, but to the whole creation. We may recall Romans 8 where Paul says that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now”, and that creation itself will be “set free from the bondage of decay”. And that the creation itself will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
It’s hard to know exactly what Paul had in mind, but his understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is cosmic in scope. Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ: animal, vegetable and mineral; earth, air, fire and water. From the depths of inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new”—not just all people, but all things, he says. Whether we quite comprehend this or not, the scope is breathtaking.
Yet the high drama, the cosmic drama of this week is experienced in very intimate things. A son and a father share an agonized conversation in a garden. Friends share supper for the last time. A foot is washed, then another. Clothing is removed to shame a victim. Flesh is pierced—the piercing of flesh is a terribly intimate thing. A mother anguishes as she awaits the last breath of a first born son. All terribly intimate moments.
Yet, all the while as these very intimate things take place, the cosmos, the planets and solar systems and galaxies swirl on their way. Its always like this, of course. Galaxies swirl even as we have our own agonized conversations, even as we share suppers for the last time, even as our own flesh, our own souls are pierced. And its all of a piece.
When he was lifted up he drew all people, all things to himself. All things, from the most distant fires of the cosmos to the most intimate embers of the soul. A fundamental unity, the very ground of our being, has drawn it all to himself. Having accomplished that, now your agony in the garden is my agony in the garden; and our agony in the garden is his agony in the garden. Now that which pierces you pierces me; and that which pierces us pierces him. Now your resurrection is mine and mine is yours and his new life is ours.
But its best not to jump ahead. For the moment, better to be swept up in this great wave and let him take us where he will.
Every ten years in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, they hold the world famous Passion Play. This year our brother John Goldring and his sister Jane will be there.
One of the most famous of the actors who portrayed Christ was Anton Lang. One day, following one of the performances, a tourist and his wife went back stage to meet the actors. After taking Lang’s picture, the man noticed the great cross that the actor had carried during the performance. He said to his wife, “Here, take the camera and I’ll lift the cross on my shoulder, and then snap my picture.” Before Lang could say anything the tourist had stooped down to lift the prop to his shoulder. He couldn’t budge it. The cross was made with solid oak beams. In amazement the man turned to Lang and said, “I thought it would be hollow and light. Why do you carry a cross which is so terribly heavy?” The actor replied, “Sir, if I did not feel the weight of his cross, I could not play his part.”
I had a bright, shiny sermon prepared for today about the wedding at Cana in Galilee, and about how in that story Jesus’ presence transformed everything so that everything and everyone in the story seemed to shimmer in the radiance of God’s glory. And then I saw the horrifying photographs of Haiti. Death, destruction, suffering and devastation.
In my prayers, I reflected on that other day which I always find so challenging.
August 6th, the day when we celebrate in church the Transfiguration of Christ, when on the holy mountain Christ’s face was irradiated with divine glory, is also the day when we remember the disfiguration of the people of Hiroshima, whose faces were irradiated with deadly heat and radiation.
We who are Christians, we who know and worship a God whom we call Love, we need to try to make sense of what has happened in Haiti. We may not be able to completely understand, but we need in some way to make sense of it for ourselves. I heard a Haitian woman yesterday as she held up her hands say, “One minute I try to hold on to my faith. The next I say, ‘God, why us?’”
Jeremiah 31: 7-14; Psalm 84: 1-8; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-19a; Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
I have been reading Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, the story of a young Burundian Tutsi who fled for his life to the United States after great suffering and months of running and hiding during the genocidal holocaust that swept through Burundi and neighboring Rwanda fifteen years ago. Throughout the long months of massacre in which he lost members of his family, friends and neighbors, Deo Gratias, for that is his name, lived in the forest a hunted man, constantly on the run, starving and sick, until a friend and former classmate at medical school (and, ironically, a Hutu, the ethnic group responsible for the slaughter), saved his life by helping him get a visa and a plane ticket to the United States. Deo arrived in America virtually penniless, and without a job or the ability to speak English. He barely survived. Then a series of miraculous encounters involving a former nun, a lawyer, a childless couple and Dr. Paul Farmer turned his life around and enabled him to get a degree from Columbia, finish medical school, and embark on a project to build a free clinic in a remote area of Burundi that would not only minister to the sick but also bring peace and reconciliation to the warring ethnic factions of that region. Experiencing years of such abject tragedy could easily have embittered him, but instead it had the opposite effect. This is an amazing story of one man’s determination to work wonders against all odds, and how his personal dedication and sense of mission have inspired others and liberated them from fear and violence.
I came to this story of the Holy Family’s flight into exile in Egypt with the modern story of Deo’s escape to the United States fresh in my mind and remembered the many millions who have had to undergo similar traumatic moves to flee evil and death.
Micah 5: 2-4; Psalm 80: 1-7; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-49
Consider the stars of this Sunday’s Gospel drama. One is an adolescent girl, probably no more than thirteen or fourteen, a member of a religious culture that taught her to look for the coming of the Messiah, the one who would liberate her people. But she never assumed she would be the instrument for his entry into the world, or that through her young body God would be formed in human flesh. Nor did she ever imagine that she would be invited to cooperate with God in this magnificent event, or to act without knowing the consequences of her cooperation. To do so meant breaking all the rules of the Jewish religious code, of bringing scandal on her family, and putting her life on the line because she lived in a society that stoned to death unwed mothers. Consider her cousin Elizabeth, a childless woman long past her childbearing years, an object of pity and scorn in her community where sons were one’s “eternal life.” And yet in old age and against biological possibility, God answered her prayer for a son and she gave birth to the last of the biblical prophets. Not just a son, that would have been marvelous in itself, but someone set apart by God to play a leading role in the salvation drama, to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
Jacob was a rather shrewd scoundrel. His latest coup was to trick his father. Jacob knew it was the father’s prerogative and power to bestow a blessing upon his eldest son, such a blessing, highly significant and irrevocable. By means of deception, Jacob himself co-opts the blessing intended for his brother, Esau. Jacob receives the blessing, but it comes at a near-crippling cost because he does not have the stature to carry the blessing.