A Terrible Story

210328 Passion SundayMarch 28, 2021Sermon It’s a terrible story we listen to, year after year, on this day, during this week before Easter that we call “holy.” And by terrible I don’t mean bad in a literary sense. On the contrary, the gospel writers skillfully use powerful language to present the story of Jesus; and they employ subtle literary allusion to the Old Testament to make this story richly resonant with the themes of the whole Bible. No, by “terrible” I mean it’s a story of fear, suffering, wretched betrayal, mob violence, and, of course, terror. Why do we subject ourselves to this annual trauma? How can it be that a religion that purports to be about forgiveness and love has, at the heart of its founding story, this bloody tale of torture and death? What value is there is rehearsing the dark story of Jesus’ last week on earth over and over again? These are the questions that dog me this year as I hear the familiar terrible tale. Maybe it’s COVID that makes the questions more acute than usual. Because it feels to me like there’s been enough suffering and death in the world this year. I don’t want to come to church and hear about more of it. All the time and every day I either experience for myself or hear about others’ experiences of anxiety, frustration, unsettlement, dis-ease, sorrow, pain, vulnerability, yearning, and sadness. There’s stress and loss at every turn. This last week, when the health minister announced no easing of restrictions just yet, I knew it was the right thing to do, but that didn’t make it any easier to face more weeks and months of lockdown. COVID in real life has enough suffering and death without adding to it the rehearsal of Jesus’ story on Passion Sunday. And then there’s the news. Here are the headlines I pulled from CBC only just this morning:·      ‘Shock and disbelief in Hawkesbury, Ontario, after doctor charged with murder·      Shambhala sex abuse allegations go back to beginnings of spiritual group, says ex-member·      Woman dead, suspect in custody after seven people stabbed in North Vancouver·      One man dead after shooting in Forest Lawn·      Myanmar sees deadliest day since coup as soldiers reportedly kill dozens It seems like the suffering of Jesus is echoed in our own lives—especially during COVID time—and the violence he experienced is still perpetrated every day in our world. And with that, maybe I’ve begun to answer my own question of why we continue to rehearse the story of Jesus’ passion every year in our sacred storytelling. It’s exactly because it’s a mirror of our own world in every age. In Jesus we come to know One who experiences the world just as we do. He knows suffering, sorrow, and death first hand – just as we do. As he himself prays in the words of the psalmist:Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble;my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly.For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing;my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed.Because we honour his story, and we feel the injustice of the violence he suffered, and outrageousness of his fate – we can come to look at our own lives, our own world, with new eyes. Throughout this season of Lent we have been meditating on the way in which God’s covenant with humanity has unfolded through the story of scripture. Through Noah we learned that the covenant begins with a relationship of care for the earth and all living creatures. From Abraham and Sarah we found that God’s intention is for blessing, even in the midst of our doubts and struggles. With Moses we discovered a way of life expected for people of the covenant, one that can be summarized in a single rule: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbour as yourself. Later we learned how God provided healing when God’s covenant people found themselves consumed in their sin. The prophet Jeremiah promised a renewal of the covenant, and a beautiful new intimacy between God and God’s people. The bedrock truth of all these stories is that the God of the covenant is faithful, no matter what. “Forever faithful!” we sing in a beautiful psalm refrain from the Easter Vigil. No matter the depth of sin, suffering, or violence of the world – God is present. Even when by all appearances God seems absent (“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!” Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) – yet even still God is present and ready to work renewal and life. Why rehearse this terrible story today? Because it is our story. What value is there in looking close up at suffering and death? Because that is the reality of our world. Why does a religion of love and forgiveness tell this story in the heart of its celebrations? Because even when hate is all around, love can be born. Where the world knows only vengeance, forgiveness can spring forth. And from the heart of death, life can burst out. But that’s a story for another day soon. Amen.


Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash