The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
Ministerium at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection
Tuesday in Holy Week 2022
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Most High God. Amen.
Of all the pictures and small statues of Christ that I have in my home, one of my favorites is this – the worried Christ. I purchased this in Poland, not far from where the Lull family once lived. The worried or pensive, thoughtful Christ is common in the folk art of that region along the Baltic Sea. It shows Jesus, seated and resting, the crown of thorns on his head. He holds his face with one hand.
I don’t know if you recognize this posture, but I do. I often hold my own head in this way when I am reading or listening to a lecture. Zoom has taught me to avoid this posture by showing how odd and distracted it looks on the screen. But it is comfortable. Give it a try.
Here we are in Holy Week, a ridiculously busy time to gather the deacons and pastors of this synod. Yet, this is such an opportune time to say – take a break from your labors; come together, sit awhile, and be fed just by showing up; learn afresh that you are not alone in the service to which you have been called.
Friends, for the past two years – in which we could not gather in person like this – I have thought a lot about the worried Christ. Okay, to be honest, I have thought more about the worried bishop and the wearied leaders of this church.
I want to say to you today – you are doing great ministry even when it doesn’t feel that way to you or a few of your critics. You know better than others how often you have pivoted and pirouetted with grace. You have rethought, reworked, reimagined so many aspects of your ministry. Thank you. We’ve been responding to the pandemic for a long time now.
On Sunday evenings I am part of a family Zoom with my sister’s family with her five grown kids, their spouses, and their children. These nieces and nephews have been a great encouragement to me since the pandemic began.
Two days ago, as we were sharing the highs and lows of our week, my seven-year-old great niece, talked about a big explosion at their house. Some months ago, she and her older brother had made a piñata, that looks like the COVD-19 virus. They had set it aside and then a few days ago there was a strange sound in the kitchen. It was the sound of the balloon deflating inside the paper-mache. When her father held it up to the camera, it still looked like a huge coronavirus with a large dent on one side. I suppose that might be a metaphor for how we are doing with this pandemic.
On Zoom, the child announced that as soon as the pandemic is over, her parents are going to fill the piñata with candy, and she is going to be the one to smash it to bits. When a relative chimed in to say that it would be a long time before this pandemic was really over, with all the bravado of a seven-year-old, she said – “I don’t care. Even if I am 35 and have kids, I am going to break that COVID piñata and grab all the candy that falls out.” Indeed.
Today, I don’t want to think about the long pandemic. I want us to think about Jesus. What would have worried Jesus so close to the cross?
In the Gospel text, John tells us that Jesus was not worried about his impending death. In those last days in Jerusalem, Jesus spoke clearly of his death and resurrection as the great mystery of life. “… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)
This week – as we do all through the year – we walk in the steps of Jesus. We follow his path because he has invited us to do so; called us beloved; called us by name. It is not the path everyone follows in this world, as we know so poignantly as we witness the ugly might of Putin’s armies bearing down on the people of Ukraine. As we know from our own temptation to live by another rule of placing ourselves at the center. Christ has good reason to worry about us humans.
But I also wonder if what Jesus might have worried about on those final steps toward the cross is our own inclination to place his burden on our shoulders. You know what I mean. To second-guess whether we have done enough. Responded well enough. Behaved non-anxiously enough. Believed earnestly enough. Loved others with a Christlike love sufficiently enough for all the promise of Easter to be true.
Yet, Jesus did not come to live among us because we had it all together. God’s love upholds us with clear knowledge of our failings and our empty bravado. Jesus does not ask us to be in God’s place, but simply to cling in trust to the God, who in Christ is for us and with us.
This morning, as we stretch out our hands, it is God, who feeds us as a mother feeds her children. The very life of the risen Christ – body and blood -- is the life we ingest. And then, we gather for a time of fellowship where conversation, and food, and the joy of being in each’s presence will gladden our hearts even more.
May this time together send us back to the labors of Holy Week, knowing in whose name – and by whose power and grace – we serve. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Bishop Patricia Lull