Holding Our Breath
The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sermon preached on March 29, 2015 – Palm Sunday, Year B: Mark 14:1-15:47
A friend shared a quote with me this week that she heard on the radio. A famous author (whose name she couldn’t remember so I can’t attribute it directly) said something like this: “The suspense we feel when hear a story isn’t the direct result of not knowing the ending.” Even though that’s how we tend to think about it. If we don’t know how the story ends then it will grip us, right? But really, that’s not necessarily true. Knowing the ending doesn’t spoil anything, this author said, because suspense isn’t about the ending at all – turns out that the element of surprise comes primarily from not knowing from how we’re going to get there.
And I think that captures this Holy Week exactly. And I think that captures our lives exactly.
We know the ending of this gospel story. Even non-regular church go-ers know the ending of this weeks’ gospel story. We know next week’s ending too. And the ending never changes. He dies. He rises. And yet it gets us every time.
Nobody came here this morning thinking that we were going to avoid the cross this year. Nobody came here expecting that maybe this time Judas would decide not to betray Jesus or that Peter would decide not to deny him. Nobody expected the trial to turn out differently or that the ending today would be anything other than the cross. And more than that we know that next week there will be angels and an empty tomb. Jesus will have risen from the dead and our cries will have moved from “Hossanna!” through “Crucify Him!” to “Alleluia!”
And we don’t have to pretend that we won’t get there. Because we will. Preachers are already working on what they’ll say next Sunday. Flowers have been ordered. Anthems are being learned. We know where we’re headed.
Jesus rises from the dead and will make all things new.
But there is suspense, no matter how many times we hear this story we hold our breath whenever he breathes his last. Every time. One of the quietest moments in the life of our church is when we read that line.
We even know the conclusion to each chapter that gets us there! That was the last supper with his friends. There was betrayal by one of them and denial by another. He was arrested. He was put on trial and put on the cross. He died. And then he rose from the dead. But even knowing all of that and having heard it over and over again, we wonder somewhere in our hearts, how it is that we’re going to get there.
And I think there is suspense comes because this is our story too and every time we enter this week, it is we who are unfolding, not God. I’m not in the same place that I was last year. Neither is anybody here. Neither is our world. And I wonder every day what God is going to do with all of this. How is God going to get us there? How is God going to get us to that place, that moment, that grace that is new life?
And so I’ve come to think that it’s our story that brings suspense to this day, not God’s. God has given this gift once and for all – to all – suffering with – dying with – rising to new life – redeeming this world – granting salvation. Done, an ending that never changes!
But every time we enter this week we are unfolding still. And so we hold our breath as he breathes his last and we wonder for ourselves, for those we love, for this world how God is going to pull this off. Not two thousand years ago, but now. That’s the real question isn’t it? In the midst of our own suffering, the hurts of this world, chapters whose endings we can already see or can’t possibly see . . . How are you going to get us there this time, God?
Well this week we are reminded that God will get us there, the same way God always has. There are no secrets in this, just mysteries and those are two very different things.
We’ll be invited to eat together. To care for one another. To wash one another’s feet and the feet of those in this world for whom walking is painful or hard or long. We’ll be invited to honestly acknowledge that betrayals happen and denials do too and sometimes we are the ones who do those kinds of things. We’ll be invited to gather at the foot of the cross and to weep some when we are there, and to become some when we are there, and find that love and hope can find it to those kinds of places too.
And the grace of it all is that as we go through the very simple yet profound motions of the week, as we “do this in remembrance,” and wonder deep in our hearts HOW God is going to pull this off, we’ll come to trust that God already has. And the rhythms of this week will become our own. We will eat and care and serve and weep and wait and see new life come.
That’s how this “peace which passes all understanding” works. It find us in every chapter of the gospel and every chapter of our lives and offers holiness in ways that sustain, forgive, surprise, heal and ultimately, make us new.
And so maybe this week as he breathes his last, we can hold our breath not because the ending isn’t known. But because it is. And it is ours.