Homily for Monday in Holy Week, March 25, 2013. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts.
Somewhere in the dark
“How priceless is your love, O God! */ your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 36:7)
We gather tonight in the world that Jesus knew, a world that is wracked by violence and fear. We live in a world in which more than three thousand children are killed every year in the United States by gunfire, a world in which a man can force his way into a school and leave twenty children dead. We live in a world of struggle and loss and sorrow, a world in which some people wrestle with despair all their lives and must exert every ounce of strength to keep hold of the desire to live. We live in a world of drones and wars and melting glaciers, a world that seems sometimes to be spinning past anyone’s control, a world in which we can’t always hold back the forces of darkness it is too late, they have already been unleashed. Jesus knows this brutal, frightened, desperate world of ours. As we move into Holy Week, the tension around Jesus is rising to a breaking point. The civil and religious authorities are plotting to take his life and looking for a way to arrest him. The powers of evil are gathering relentless, implacable, and ready to strike.
Yet somewhere in the dark, in this world in which it seems sometimes that no one cares we are lost there is no meaning anymore, no longer any ground for hope still, there is a house where someone is bending down to anoint another person’s feet. The gesture is an act of blessing, an anointing for burial, and an expression of extravagant love. Somewhere in the dark, a woman is turning to Jesus with tenderness and a gentle touch. She has seen his goodness, and that goodness has called forth her own. She has seen his strength, and that strength has called out hers. She has experienced his generosity, and that generosity has awakened hers. She has witnessed his desire to follow where divine love leads, no matter what the cost may be, and that desire has aroused her own. In knowing Jesus, she knows someone whose very being proclaims what the psalmist sang, “Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, * and your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the strong mountains, your justice like the great deep; you save both man and beast, O LORD” (Psalm 36:5-6). In Jesus, Mary of Bethany has met just as we meet someone who conveys the divine love that fills everything from the heights of the heavens down to the great deep, the love of God that is manifest in the evanescent, passing cloud and in the ancient, solid mountains, the love that sustains both human beings and the whole creation. In the presence of Jesus, Mary can say with the psalmist, “How priceless is your love, O God!* / your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7).
We enter the darkness of Holy Week because this is where we meet Jesus, here in the darkness of the world, where the light of Christ continues to shine. The light that we see in Jesus calls forth the light that abides within us. Somewhere in the dark goodness, beauty, mercy, and truth are still shining. Somewhere in the dark, there is a house that is filling with the fragrance of perfume. Somewhere in the dark, people who love Jesus are coming alive, rising up to bear witness to the love of God that will never die.
You know this for yourselves. I see so many of you reaching out a hand to visit the sick, to comfort the bereaved, to share in someone’s laughter or to ease someone’s tears! Again and again in your lives, and in mine, I see how a small act of kindness, a decision to listen carefully and with love, a willingness to forgive or a commitment to search for reconciliation in a difficult relationship is making all the difference in opening a path to new life. This morning I saw again the power of walking with Jesus, as bishops, clergy, and lay people from across New England and the Atlantic seaboard including our own Doug Fisher gathered in Washington, D.C. to pray an outdoor Stations of the Cross. This extraordinary Holy Week Witness was organized by the bishops of Connecticut after the shooting in Newtown, and its purpose was to challenge our country’s culture of violence. The bishops decided to take that witness to our nation’s capital in order “to say to our political leaders and to our country that we will no longer be silent while violence permeates our world, our society, our Church, our homes and ourselves. Our faith calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, to give voice to the voiceless and to strive for justice in the name of our Lord.”
Tonight, and throughout this week, we look deeply into the darkness of the world. With Jesus, we face the suffering, injustice, and dying that is going on around us and within us. Yet somewhere in the dark, someone is making a gesture of loving-kindness, and a house is filling with the fragrance of perfume, the fragrance of an infinite love that darkness will never overcome. Somewhere in the dark, those who love Jesus are already coming alive, already rising up to bear witness to the love of God that never dies.
I want to close by reading one of the meditations that was written for the Stations of the Cross service held today in D.C. I contributed a meditation myself, but that is not the one I want to read. I want to close with a meditation written by Bishop Jim Curry of Connecticut.1 He writes:
“On the evening of Good Friday every year, the Anglican Church in Maputo, Mozambique gathers for the Burial of Christ. A black casket is carried to the front of the church and laid before the altar. Pallbearers lift the lid from the casket and put it aside. The bishop calls the congregation into solemn prayer. Jesus has died. He truly is dead. And this service is to be his funeral.
“Two by two the members of the congregation are invited forward with these words: Come and see the one who has died and will rise from the dead. Acolytes stand near the casket to hand flowers to each person who comes forward. Everyone knows these flowers are to decorate his grave. Jesus is truly dead.
“Two by two the congregants make their way to the casket to look on the one who has died and who will rise from the dead. A thousand people come forward accompanied by the singing of a cappella choirs. Two by two people stop at the casket, bow, and look upon the one who has died and who will rise from the dead. Finally,” he writes, “it is my turn to come to the casket, flower in hand. It is a holy moment. I bow and look into casket. And there, in a mirror, I see my own face. I am the one who has died and will rise from the dead.
“St. Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too we might walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:3-4).”
As we enter Holy Week, may we discover afresh that walking the way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ.
1. The Rt. Rev. James E. Curry, Bishop of Connecticut, Meditation for the Thirteenth and Fourteen Stations of “The Way of the Cross: Challenging a Culture of Violence,” March 25, 2013, in Washington, D.C.