Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Crosses Hurt like Hell: Preparing for Holy Week

Last Sunday in Children’s Chapel here at Christ Church in Exeter, we talked about the gospel story of the day of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. I focused on that one short line that is available to all who wish to commit a verse of the Bible to memory: “Jesus wept.” Or “Jesus cried.” I asked then children when and if they have ever cried. They all said yes, of course. Then I asked: what makes you cry?  There were examples galore. When I get tackled playing a sport. When my brother hits me.  Many of the children connected pain with tears.  Others sadness. The death of a beloved pet.  And then one boy said that he sometimes cries when he laughs.  

We’ve all done that, haven’t we? We get laughing so hard and fully and for so long that tears literally start coming out our eyes. Why the connection with the pain and loss of sadness that brought tears to the eyes of Jesus at the death of his friend – and the quick turn of tears to laughter?  There is a very thin line isn’t there, between good times and bad, health and sickness, up and down, employed and unemployed, together and alone, content and miserable.  In the blink of an eye, in a moment, on a day, things can change.  

That is what Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday feels like to me.  Even our use of the word passion is two edged and double-sided.  Only in the church does it point to the suffering of Jesus and the way it is used today – the strong desire or compelling emotion towards another.

The triumphant, joyful, expectant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with the waving of palms to signal a new day, and then the reality hits.  The betrayal, trial, denials, torture and death.  In the past these two events actually had their own Sundays: we would have read the Passion story last Sunday and only deal with the Palm part of that story today.  Both converge.  These two mixed yet related messages and events are a lot take in. The reading and listening to the Passion can be overwhelming and exhausting.

The line between sadness and joy is thin, tenuous, real and ever-present. 

I have previously mentioned that I am a reluctant Twitter user because I know that being a leader in the church today means that one needs to at least know about social media and how people are communicating with one another.  So I have a Twitter account, as the does the parish. The pop singer Katie Perry has 52 million followers – (people who receive what she communicates -- she’s very popular) – I have 73. I don’t take it personally. 

I do I follow Jesus Christ on Twitter.  You can find him @JesusofNaz316 with the description “Carpenter who hangs out with fisherman, alcoholics and prostitutes: I ascended. Remember?” The thousands of Jesus tweets are often edgy and provacative, sometimes heretical if not hysterical.  I was certainly glad to see that Jesus of Naz follows God on Twitter: @almightygod.  Based on those associated with this social media project, I’m guessing the author is of an Episcopal/Anglican persuasion.  You can just tell. 

The entry for this past week caught my eye. Twitter Jesus wrote: “Crosses hurt like hell.”  Funny, provocative, profane – yes. Thinking about the post more: profound and true.

The one-time dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco wrote that “everything that happens to Christ happens to us.”  Birth, wilderness, temptation, loneliness, joy, loss, suffering and yes, in time, death. 

And yes, crosses hurt. The literal crosses that were used to end the lives of so many living under Roman occupation were horrendous. Any attempt to lend the scene of a crucifixion of Jesus any air of historical accuracy by Hollywood is either gory to the extreme that it can cause the moviegoer to avert their eyes or to the other end to over-sentimentalize or sugar coat what a terrible way to die and a scandalous beginning of a new faith. 

For you and me as followers of Jesus – not the Twitter JesusofNas316 – but the compassionate face of a loving God who lived in and blessed our world – we know that crosses hurt.  The crosses of illness, injustice, divorce, addiction, depression, the death of a loved one -- they hurts like hell. Hell being that place in our tradition, in our lives and imaginations where it can seem that God is out of reach: silent and powerless. What is hell? Often time it is believing that God is nowhere to be seen. It’s just us swimming alone through the universe of unknowing. That is not what God promised us.     

Palm and Passion Sunday all wrapped up into one remind us of a truth that is right under our nose and in the air around us.  The crosses of our lives are many times a means to an end. And I believe they are an end to a means – intended to loop us back around to kind of life God desires for us.  Crosses can teach us to trust. Pain and tears can and do bleed into laughter. Joy and laughter get interrupted and upended by tears.

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