At the End of This Week, Wednesday in Holy Week – March 28, 2018

Wednesday Episcopal Sermon

[RCL]: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32

Suffering is not something we do well, generally speaking. Suffering is not something we seek out, not something we cultivate, not something we practice so we can do it even better.

No, suffering is something we avoid—or try to avoid—as best we can.

And, when you come right down to it, suffering is not something we experience that much or that deeply in our privileged lives in twenty-first-century America.

O, there are exceptions, to be sure. But for most of us, what we consider “suffering” are things like being stuck in a traffic jam, or having to wait a long time for food to be served to us in a restaurant, or not finding a free locker at the gym—things that the world’s poor and underprivileged would find very curious indeed.

Their idea of suffering could be more like this: being stuck in an unending cycle of poverty and oppression, having to wait a long time for any food at all, or not finding a day free from back-breaking labor.

Now, that’s suffering.

So, how very strange would it be to deliberately, intentionally, and willfully submit ourselves to suffering?

How very odd to admit that one of our closest friends or associates will betray us—and not just allow that to happen, but actually encourage it?

And how very outlandish to say—once that betrayal has been put in action, when that suffering inevitably lies ahead—how very outlandish to say, “Now I have been glorified, and God has been glorified in me.”

And yet this is exactly what Jesus does and says, as told to us in this passage from the Gospel according to John.

The sequence goes something like this:

“One of you will betray me,” Jesus says.

Then “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

Followed by, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

First, it seems odd that Jesus seems to welcome the betrayal.

Yet elsewhere he is quoted as saying, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed,” (Mt. 17:22) and “the Son of Man is going as it has been determined” (Lk. 22:22).

Perhaps he simply accepts as inevitable that he will indeed suffer. He’s not exactly enamored of the idea, but he knows in his heart that he cannot avoid his fate.

Then he seems to want to have it over with quickly—a feeling with which any of us could resonate.

If there’s going to be pain, at least make it short. If we must endure agony, don’t let it be for a long time. If there are hard times ahead, please let them be brief.

Then comes the most surprising statement of all, the one about his being glorified, and God being glorified in him.

And, in a way, that’s exactly where we stand on this Wednesday in Holy Week.

We are in the lull between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem—with palms before him and death ahead of him.

The betrayal is inevitable; in the narrative, it happens tomorrow.

And then the agony in Gethsemane, the trial, the condemnation before Pilate, the carrying of the cross, a crown of thorns, the nailing to the cross, and the crucifixion itself—those three hours of torment in the midday sun.

The suffering will be severe—but brief. The whole cycle begins tomorrow night, and it ends on Friday afternoon.

And then there’s the glory, something we must yet wait for, something we nevertheless seek, something we hope will happen again—and happen anew—this Easter morning.

Is there a message for us in all this?—something more than a lecture in history or a narration of past events?

Well, if suffering is inevitable for the God-made-human we call Jesus, perhaps too it is inevitable for us.

That’s not exactly good news, but it is truth-telling. And our suffering is likely to pale compared with his. Perhaps there’s a word of comfort in that.

And, like Jesus, we hope that our suffering will be brief. With him, we say, “Let’s just get this over with!”

Because after that suffering, at the end of that time of trial, when the dark clouds clear: then the glory of God is revealed.

We are here in the middle of Holy Week, in the tension of a kind of metaphor for life itself:

Amidst the struggle, facing the pain, between the beginning and the end—and awaiting not just the yearly commemoration of the first Easter, but also the final event in the divine plan, something yet to come.

And so, we prepare to move ourselves away from the ashes, that we may be able to greet the Easter dawn.

We move away from sin, and into the new life promised for each of us.

We move away from suffering and betrayal, and into an eternal life of ineffable joys.

We move away even from our old selves, and into a new existence that is more and more in the image of God.

This is our journey—not simply commemorating past events, as miraculous as they were.

But anticipating miracles yet to come.

And appropriating that past into our present, making it come alive for us, as it came alive for Jesus—as a foretaste of the final moment when we are reunited with those who have gone before.

For we know that, even as the horrors of Good Friday lie ahead, we will once again say, “Welcome, Happy Easter” at the end of this week, because we are in the midst of the week when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.

This week that restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.

This week that casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

At the end of this week we get a glimpse of the day of the general resurrection, when we, with all those who are of the mystical body, will be set on God’s right hand, and hear that most joyful voice: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The Rev. Barrie Bates has served Anglican and Lutheran congregations in California, New York, and New Jersey over the past 20+ years. He holds a Ph.D. in liturgical studies, and memberships in the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. Other than ordained ministry, his interests include opera, fine dining, and boating.

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The Light Shines in the Darkness, Wednesday in Holy Week – April 12, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32

You’ve probably heard the story of the two wolves. It’s often told as coming from one of the various First Peoples, usually Cherokee, but it’s one of those stories that is so pithy and true that it almost doesn’t matter what the real source is…it gets passed around and told and retold, over and over, because we all sense how true it is…because we’ve all experienced it ourselves.

It goes like this.

There are two wolves, and they live inside each of us. They are always fighting. One is darkness and despair…it is fed by, and produces, things like anger, envy, greed, arrogance, lies, false pride, and ego.

The other is light and hope. It lives for, and produces, things like joy and peace, humility and generosity, faith, hope, and love.

These two wolves live in each one of us, and they are constantly struggling for dominance. And the question is always…which one wins?

The answer is always…whichever one you feed.

There’s another story that has been passed around and told and retold. It’s a story that many in our contemporary world only know in very broad outlines.

It’s about a good man, a wise counselor, a wonderful teacher. Some say he was divine. We say he was the Son of God. He ran afoul of the authorities and was killed. Then he rose again. It’s a a story we all know here in the church, we’re all familiar with it.

We’re familiar with it, because like the story of the wolves, it’s tells our story, our true story. We are a part of this story just as the wolves are a part of us. We absorb the details of this story every time we move through Holy Week.

We participate in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna.” We know that the king has come riding on a donkey. We know this because we’ve seen amazing things, miraculous things: Lazarus raised from the dead, for example. He was there at dinner just a few nights ago.

And the night Mary took all that oil, so much of it, such an extravagant gesture, and anointed Jesus. Almost as if she was preparing him for burial. And Judas was upset because he thought it was a waste of money. Judas often worried about money.

Jesus asked God to “glorify his name.” And there was this sound, this incredible, uncanny sound, it was a voice that said, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” And Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” And then, he said something about being lifted up, and drawing all people to himself, and about “walking in darkness” and us becoming “children of light.”

This is our story. Darkness and despair, light and hope, doubt and conviction. We each have all of that inside of us. We walk in the dark and try to be bearers of the light. Or we try to walk in the light, but live in fear that our own darkness will be revealed. Either way, we know this to be true. Darkness and light, despair and hope both come as part of the package.

We tell and retell this story every year. And every year there is this moment when someone close to Jesus betrays him. We don’t like this moment, but we know it to be true because we’ve all felt the icy pain of betrayal when someone close has turned on us. And we’ve all felt the sickly shame when we’ve betrayed someone else. We’ve all felt the darkness flood in and threaten to overwhelm us.

You can feel it now. That dark wolf, the night in our veins. There is darkness all around. Judas has just left. The authorities are anxious. Everyone is on edge.

Will the Romans crack down? Will there be raids and deportations? Perhaps even executions? When Judas leaves, John makes a point of saying that it is night. You can hear the wolf howling at night. We know what’s coming.

The darkness will grow. The arrest. The trial. The crucifixion. By tomorrow night, that wolf will threaten to devour all of us. By Friday, Judas will not be alone in the darkness. Peter will have denied Jesus. We all will have deserted him. And when someone asks, “didn’t I see you with him?” We will all deny it and say, “No. I don’t know him.”

But we also know how this ends. We also know that this is not the end. The betrayals and the denials are not the end. Even death is not the end. We know that beyond all of this darkness, past this night, there is an empty tomb.

Yes, inside of us there are two wolves. One is darkness and despair, and one is light and hope. And it really does matter which one you feed.

As children of the light, we are called to spread the light, and with it to spread joy and peace, and faith and hope and love. And it also matters that we remember—as we enter the darkest nights of our story—that no matter how powerful the darkness seems to get, that we are never alone. Because we have Jesus—“the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

We have Jesus who has walked this road before us, and who continues to walk this journey with us.

It is important to remember that no matter how ravenous the dark wolf gets that we are not alone, because we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Saints who have also been through trials who have had doubts and faced despair, who have stumbled and fallen, but who have continued, and “have run with perseverance the race.”

It is important to remember as we enter these Three Holy Days that the darkness will come but the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

Amen.

Written by The Rev. Richard Burden, who serves as the Rector of All Saints Parish in Brookline, MA. Prior to coming to the Diocese of Massachusetts he served in the Diocese of Lexington.

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