The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – April 13, 2014
Palm and Passion Sunday, Year A: Matthew 26:14-27:54
Last week I was looking over this morning’s psalm with a Grace kid as we prepared for a mid-week service. We read a couple of verses and then he said to me. “I need stop.” And he was absolutely serious, complete with the hand motion that communicates “stop.” “When I get to these parts in the Bible,” he told me very honestly, “I feel like I should close it. And just hold my stomach.” As only a seven, or eight, or nine year old could put it perhaps, but I knew that in those words he had spoken the truth about this week for us all.
We get to the words we just heard and there is a natural temptation to step away, to distract ourselves, to think about other things, or maybe to just keep reading and turning pages very quickly – to move through these next days and get to resurrection now. I’m pretty sure that that’s why attendance on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday don’t together total, even when doubled, the attendance for Easter Day.
Now we are a people of the resurrection and so packing it in for the proclamation that is Easter is a grace-filled, beautiful and faithful thing to do. Please do come back and help us be the Alleluia we can be for this world. But there is something we do before Alleluia, even because of Alleluia that matters too. We gather here in this place at the cross and we hold our stomachs. And perhaps without even having the words for it, we find the courage to not turn the pages too fast. Because as hard as it is, as painful as it is, this whole unfolding from Hosanna to Crucify him with lots in-between the two of those cries, are parts of God’s gift too.
Let me tell you another story that might explain this a little. This is another story that’s happening at Grace this week. And I am sharing this story not for dramatic effect, so please don’t hear it that way. I’m telling you this story because it’s part of the whole truth, the truth of all of this. It’s why we can’t turn the pages yet.
Yesterday I got a call from the chaplain at Holland Hospital that a member of Grace had died very suddenly. David Raffenaud who is a local jazz and blues musician (his wife Krista is an elementary school teacher) – David suffered a heart attack on Saturday morning. They tried to revive him – the paramedics tried and the ER doctors and nurses tried too. But on Saturday morning, David Raffenaud beloved child of God, beloved family member and friend of many, died.
So David and Krista are part of why we can’t close this book now; and they remind us why these pages are here at all. In many ways, that family is living these pages today – having stepped into chapters they never would have chosen for themselves and that they would rewrite or completely avoid if they could. But they are here. And we as community of faith need to gather with them as they question why, as they wrestle with denial, as they pick up their crosses, and grieve the kind of grief that we feel in our stomachs with them. We can’t close the book now! There are people on these pages, our people are here today and if we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that are always people living these words – suffering, dying, experiencing extreme injustice -there are always beloved children of God who are living the pages that are the darknesses of this world.
And so if there’s a “why?” to the cross, if there is an answer to the “why?’ of the cross – that’s probably it. There are people on these pages, all of these pages, even the hard pages. And God knew that. And that’s why God is on these pages too. And if we consider the theology behind the rituals of these days, we have to say that we aren’t just moving through these pages because God is in them; we have to proclaim the good news that God came into these pages because we were already there.
And God refused to close the book on any dimension of human reality. This whole story tells us that God decided to be that holy presence in the midst of the most extreme of our human failings, frailties and sin. As hard as it is, this week proclaims the good news that God stepped into these pages too – because there were already people living them and dying on them. There were beloved children of God here and in order to extend the divine embrace eternally, God went so far as to be present with Christ, with us on the cross.
And in doing so, God ensured that there would be more to the story. It’s almost like God is lying all stretched out across the pages, refusing to let us close the book on ourselves and then giving us more to read, more to live, more to hope.
On Easter beginning at sunset with the Vigil on Saturday night, we will light a fire and we will cry Alleluia! and God will reveal the next chapter in the story. There will be emptiness and angels, confusion and miracles and at first it will make absolutely no sense – because it’s sort of a surprise ending that’s also the most miraculous beginning of all. There will be Christ with us again – and new life for all because that’s what God being on the page can do.
Now Krista might not be able to sing with us yet. Sometimes those three days can take months or years if the cross is your own. And so while we sit with her there, we’ll also gather together here and we will cry Alleluia more prayerfully, more hopefully, more compassionately than we might normally do because it’s up to us to tell the world that with God’s help, the pages ultimately turn themselves.
So don’t be afraid. Find courage. God is here. Resurrection comes. Resurrection always comes. Even at the grave, even at the cross, even when we have to whisper from the pit our stomachs, we make our cry, “Alleluia.”