Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Holy Week Nostalgia

In my home growing up, life had a different rhythm during Holy Week. It was a part of our family rhythm to be in church on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. As a family, we experienced together, each and every year, the wonderful mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Many people get nostalgic at Christmas, remembering Christmases past with loved ones. Yet as I get older, I get nostalgic about Holy Week, remembering Holy Weeks past with loved ones.

When I was a child and a teenager, we went to our own church for the worship services during Holy Week. Yet on Good Friday, we always went to the church of my grandparents: St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston. This was also the church where I was baptized – and where I would later be married.

At St. John the Divine, the Good Friday worship service lasted from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM, the same hours that Jesus hung on the cross. However, the service was “come and go” so that you could stay for as long as you wanted during the three hours. A hymn was sung every 20 minutes, so that people could come and go during the singing.

Each year on Good Friday, we would pick up my grandmother for a simple lunch. After lunch, we drove to Glenwood Cemetery, where many of my ancestors are buried. At the cemetery, we would reverently place a few Easter lilies on the graves. After a moment of hushed remembrance and the quiet re-telling of the stories of the dead, we would depart for church, arriving a little before 2 o’clock. At 3 o’clock, the hour that Jesus died, the big bell in the tower tolled. In that silent church, with only the sound of a lone bell, my grandmother would sniffle, fighting back tears as she remembered those who had experienced their own Good Fridays.

Remembering is a large part of our faith story. In fact we could say that the whole of the Scriptures are read and digested, daily and weekly, so that we can remember the mighty deeds of God. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes bread and says: “Do this in remembrance of me.” He takes the cup of wine and says: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Each Sunday in the Eucharist, we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus.

During Holy Week – and especially on Good Friday – I get nostalgic and I remember. I remember my ancestors who are dead and buried, who died in the hope of the resurrection. I remember kneeling with my family, hearing the bell toll at 3 o’clock, the hour of Jesus’ death. I remember the sound of my grandmother, sniffling back her tears.

This Holy Week and Easter, I invite you to take up the rhythm of this week. Make it different than all other weeks. Make memories for yourself and for your descendents. Make this Holy Week - a time to remember.

The Judgment of this World

Sermon from March 25, 2012
(Lent 5 – Year B)
John 12: 20-33
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

The book entitled The Hunger Games has taken America by storm.
And the movie based upon the book, also entitled The Hunger Games, is breaking records for attendance in movie theatres this weekend.

The Hunger Games is set in the future.
And in this future, the area of North America is now governed by another nation, a nation called Panem.
And in the country of Panem, in this futuristic system, the greatest form of national entertainment is watching The Hunger Games on TV.
The Hunger Games assigns 24 youth, 2 from each district of the country, to compete in a game for survival.
These 24 youth must hunt and kill each other in the forest, until the sole survivor is declared the victor.
And every brutal and calculating movement of these youth is broadcast on national TV.

Although The Hunger Games is set in the future, there are aspects of the brutality and the voyeuristic pleasure of the games that invokes systems in the past, a time when people fought to the death in the coliseum in Rome.
The system of blood-thirsty sport, all for the pleasure of the audience, is nothing new.

And underneath the system of the Hunger Games - is a judgment upon our own society.
In the book and the film called The Hunger Games is a judgment upon violence as a form of consumeristic entertainment.

In our society today, we might not put people into the coliseum for our entertainment.
Yet our entertainment is populated by “reality TV” - where we are entertained by people who duke it out on Survivor or The “Real” Housewives of New Jersey.
In our society and in our lives, conniving, selfish and destructive behavior is rewarded.
And The Hunger Games is a judgment upon our systems that are driven by consumerism, violence and entertainment, all rolled into one.

Jesus also pronounces a judgment upon our society, judgment upon systems that are driven by consumerism, violence and entertainment, all rolled into one.
In John’s Gospel, in the last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus tells us that his hour has come to be glorified.
Just before Jesus is lifted up from the earth on his cross, he proclaims:
“Now is the judgment of this world;
Now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”

On his cross, Jesus reigns in glory.
On his cross, Jesus judges the systems of this world.
On his cross, Jesus drives out the forces of violence and selfish behavior that can be cruelly consumed as entertainment.

For the crucifixion of Jesus – as well as The Hunger Games – was a form of entertainment in this world that prizes a good show, as long as it is at someone else’s expense.
When Jesus was nailed to the cross, it was an event made for reality TV, where the Son of God was mocked for not being the sole survivor.
Yet nailed to that cross, Jesus judges our system, as he does not retaliate by sending a lightening bolt to kill his executioners.
Instead Jesus pleads “Father, forgive them” - judging this world with his love.

I think that it is a cop out to view the systems of consumerism, racism, sexism and other isms as someone else’s problem.
In our day-to-day lives, Jesus is lifted high from the earth to judge our human systems – and he asks us to speak out, in love.

Recently, I saw a bumper sticker that was blatantly racist.
This bumper sticker was a cruel, racist swipe at our current President.
I can remain silent about it, silently thinking that maybe someone else will repudiate such cruelty.
Yet the loving thing to do is to speak out against such hateful displays.

On facebook, I read that a friend of mine was disturbed when she saw a little boy reduced to tears on the Little League field yesterday.
Evidently, this boy’s father berated his son, telling him:
“You swing the baseball bat like a little girl!”
We can remain silent about such sexist and cruel comments.
Yet the loving thing to do is to speak out against hateful and destructive speech.

I sometimes cannot even walk into a shopping mall anymore, because I can almost hear the merchandise screaming out at me and at others, shouting:
“Buy me, and I will make happy!”
We can remain silent about this manipulation of consumers.
Yet the loving thing is to act, to act by giving our money away to those in need, rather than filling our closets with more and more stuff.

And when we buck the system,
When we do not remain silent about racism and sexism and consumerism,
When we speak out for justice and mercy and love,
Then we are crucified.

When we judge using the standard of love for all human beings,
When we resist the systems of this world,
Then we are crucified with Christ.

Yet when we are crucified with Christ.
We have a sure and certain hope in the resurrection.

So speak out against bullying among our youth and speak out against bigoted speech among all – even though you might get crucified for not minding your own business.
Act against violence, by turning the other cheek instead of retaliating – even though you might get crucified for being weak.
Give your money away into the offering plate – even though you might get crucified for being a poor money manager.
Love, love, love – even though you will get crucified for it.

For now is the ruler of this world driven out,
A world that is entertained by cruel Hunger Games and by battles to the death in the coliseum and by fights on The Real Housewives of Wherever.
Now, on the cross, is the judgment of the systems of this world.

Now is the judgment of Jesus with his power:
The power of love.