+ This past week at St. Stephen’s, we had something happen that has never happened before here. On Wednesday, we lost two parishioners on the same day. Pat Butler was one of our senior members of St. Stephen’s, our second longest serving parishioner. Pat joined St. Stephen’s in 1957, within that first year of St. Stephen’s founding. She was a wonderful person. I always enjoyed spending time with her and talking with her, either in person or on the phone.
Our new senior member is Audrie McConnell, who joined on January 4, 1957. After Audrie, our second longest-serving member is none other than Harriet Blow—who, if you might remember, was not expected to survive her birth and now, here she is, the longest serving member of St.. Stephen’s. She joined in 1960. Carol Spurbeck is next, having joined in 1961 and the Coffeys and Greta Taylor, who both joined in 1962.
Also on Wednesday, Angel Brekke died. Many of us will miss Angel. She regularly attended Sunday morning Mass, even despite debilitating pain and health problems. She was here, though, on a regular and faithful basis, always looking very put-together, with her bright red hair and always smiling. She delighted in being here, and being a part of the worship life and community life of St. Stephen’s.
Losses like these are hard. They’re hard for me personally, as I’m sure they are some many of us here this morning And they’re hard for us as a congregation.
This coming week will be difficult for the fact that we h ave to say goodbye to these parishioners, these follow seekers of God, these friends of ours who were also family to us. But of course this coming week is difficult for another very important reason as well. It is Holy Week. This is one of THOSE weeks. There is A LOT going on and, at times, it seems almost overwhelming.
But, that’s just the way life works sometimes. We, as followers of Jesus, now have to follow him through some unpleasant places. We are forced to follow him through the horrendous torture and through a brutal murder. None of us want to do this. We want our sunny, friendly Jesus. We’ll even take a scolding Jesus. We do not want this tortured, beaten, bleeding Jesus.
But that’s what it means to follow Jesus. It means that what we are about to embark on is a very personal journey. Yes, we might relate to the crowd who cry, “Crucify him!” Yes, we might relate to Peter in his denial or even Judas in his betrayal. Or we might to relate to the women who followed Jesus or to Jesus’ mother who must watch the torture and murder of her child.
But, the one we really relate to is the one we follow. Why shouldn’t we? When we hear this Gospel—this very disturbing reading—how can we not feel what he felt? How can we sit here passively and not react in some way to this violence done to him? How can we sit here and not feel, in some small way, the betrayal, the pain, the suffering?
After all, none of us in this church this morning, has been able to get to this point unscathed in some way. We all carry our own passions—our own crucifixions—with us. We bear, in our own selves, our own wounds. Oftentimes those wounds we carry with us—those memories and pains we lug around—cripple us.
I can tell you in all honesty: I carry them in my own life. At times, I carry those pains and memories of pains with me as heavily as any cross. They cause us to bleed at a moment’s notice. For every pain, for every betrayal, for every emotional or verbal or physical pain we carry with us, we are able to relate to what Jesus went through. And he, in turn, is able to relate to us as well—here in our pain.
What this coming week shows us is that every time we suffered and continue to suffer, God does too. If we believe that God is not still suffering in us and among us then we are deceiving ourselves. If we do not believe that Jesus is not still suffering the insults, the whippings, and is being murdered in our world then we are blinding ourselves. If we believe that Jesus is still, in a sense, not still being denied proper burial and is dependent on the kindness of others to bury him, then we are have not been paying attention.
The Gospel story we heard this morning is our story in a sense. It is our story because we are followers of Jesus and because we follow him, it becomes our story too. Every time we hear the story of Jesus’ torture and death and can relate to it, every time we can hear that story and feel what Jesus felt because we too have been maligned, betrayed, insulted, spat upon, then we too are sharing in the story. Every time we hear about people turned away, betrayed, deceived, and we can feel their pain in some small way, we are sharing in Christ’s passion. When we listen to and share in the horror and terror of the Germanwings Crash in the French Alps this past week, when a mentally unstable co-pilot purposely and calmly crashed an airplane full of screaming passengers into a mountain, then we understand how powerless we can feel in the face of violence and death. When we can feel the wounds we carry around with us begin to bleed again when we hear the story of Jesus’ death, we too are sharing in his death, again and again.
But the greatest part about sharing in this story of Jesus is that we get to share in the whole story. Look what awaits us next Sunday. These sufferings and hardships we experience today, are ultimately temporary. But what we celebrate next Sunday is forever—it is unending.
The great Nobel-prize winning Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer, died also this week, on Thursday. Tranströmer, in his wonderful poem, “Summer Grass,” wrote:
“So much has happened.
Reality has eaten away so much of us.
But summer, at last”
We, as Christians, understand that. We get that.
So much has happened.
Reality truly has eaten away so much of us.
Easter morning awaits us all—that day in which we will rise from the ashes of this life and live anew in that unending dawn. Yes, this morning we are mourning for our fellow followers of Jesus, Pat and Angel. But our tears are dried and our pains are healed in the glorious light of Easter morning. This is our hope. This is what we are striving toward in case we might forget that fact.
Our following of Jesus means following him even to that point—to the Easter light that is about to dawn into our lives. Our own Easter morning awaits us as well.
So, as difficult as it might be to hear this morning’s gospel, let us just remember that in the darkness of Good Friday, the dawn of Easter morning is about to break. With it, the wounds disappear. The pains and the sufferings are forgotten. The tears are dried for good. The grave lies empty behind us. And before us lies life. Before us lies a life triumphant and glorious in ways we can only—here and now—just barely begin to comprehend.