“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look inside the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” (John 20: 11-13a)
When Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem atop his trusty steed, it’s to cheers and cries of “Make Israel great again.” It’s a demonstration, a march, a rally. There’s no doubt this event has political, religious, and economic implications. But there is ambiguity here: is this a military coup or is it a peace demonstration? Is this about civil disobedience a la Henry David Thoreau or is this about religious reformation a la Martin Luther? Is Jesus making a run for president here or is he lampooning the whole politico-religious system? Think of the great prophet Moses delivering the people from the oppression of Pharaoh—or the great King David fighting against Goliath and defeating the Philistines. There were ancient symbolic resonances of Jesus’ action here.
One of Jesus’s most discomforting and most life-changing teachings may be: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Who comes to mind for you in your own life when you hear that word, “enemies”?
My mother was born in 1942 in a village on a fjord in Norway. Her earliest memory was hearing Allied bombers flying overhead, and running up a flight of stone steps so fast, trying to glimpse them, that she fell and cut her lip open. Her parents hid a radio under the floorboards of their country house, so her father could hear the news from the British Broadcasting Service. Her grandparents’ house was occupied by soldiers. Her family members were not in danger for their lives, and they weren’t displaced persons or refugees, but after the war, there were no jobs and no money in Norway, and so her father followed his brother to New York City to look for work, and she and her mother followed soon after. It wasn’t easy – my grandfather never liked the U.S. and even my mother, who was only six years old when she arrived, never quite felt like a “real” American.
Shortly after World War II the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz published a book called The Captive Mind to grapple with why so many Polish intellectuals had been duped by the ideology of Soviet-style communism. He describes their minds as being held captive as though by a drug. The illustration he uses is the Murti-Bing pill, which contained in pill form an extremely condensed form of a philosophy of life. Before the pill the people are unhappy in that they have no faith and no sense of meaning in their work. Milosz describes it like this:
My friend Dave is in his first year as the rector of an Episcopal church in Tucson, Arizona. This weekend, he led a series of blessings all around their buildings, blessing most of the significant doorways in an old European Epiphany tradition – saying a prayer and marking numbers and letters in chalk across the doorframe: the year – “2017” – with the initials of the three magi in between, separated by crosses. So: 20 + C + M + B + 17. The initials of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (which are not found in the Bible) are the same as the initials of the Latin, Christus mansionem benedicat: “May Christ bless this house.”
Yesterday I had the opportunity to march down Michigan Ave carrying a cross with the name of Wayne Robertson one of the 760 people killed by gun violence in 2016 in Chicago. This march was organized by father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabinas Catholic Church in Chicago and 16 other Episcopalians also joined from the Peace and justice movement in our diocese of Chicago to carry a cross. The scene was very over whelming with the group marching in silence as the names of each person was announced aloud. The scene at Tribune Tower with all those crosses there was numbing. On this Sunday when we offer prayers and anointing for healing, my sermon today is about justice and healing.
A little less than nine months from today, a total solar eclipse will occur here in the United States for the first time since 1979. The moon will cut a shadow over 150 miles wide, which will move at more than 1000 miles per hour along a southeast path starting at a rocky beach on the Oregon coast and zooming across Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North, and South Carolina, before vanishing into the Atlantic Ocean. The shadow will cross the country in about an hour and a half, on a Monday in August.
Some years, I worry we won’t make it to Christmas. I don't mean we won’t live to see the day or the world will end before we get there. And I don't mean that the process of waiting or shopping or traveling will somehow keep us from getting to Christmas. I don't even mean the challenges of surviving the visit with the in-laws.