Monday, April 14, 2014

April 14th

Keith and I have been attending an Episcopalian church for a month or so now.

Yesterday, we stood outside in the spring sunshine holding palm branches amid a laughing crowd of still mostly unknown church members, red robed choir members, black robed clergy members and white robed acolytes. I think they are called acolytes.

Announcements were called and then the rector lifted up her brave, solitary voice and began to sing the liturgy. Then a trumpet began to play and we all marched into the church, singing.

Once we were in the church, our voices almost died away, while the bulk of the choir was still outside. Eventually, they filtered in and the voices began to swell and then there were bells and trumpets playing and the choir circled around us, singing and the hosannas were thundering to the peaked roof.

It was bitter, the singing, because I had looked ahead to the rest of the liturgy and knew they were going to be reading the Passion from Matthew.

In one breath we are extolling Jesus in song, and in the next breath, we are the crowd and as a congregation we are calling out, "Let Him be crucified!" and "Crucify Him!" We all stood up, and the choir, which had praised Him so jubilantly, were now mocking Him as Jesus died.

We were not some elevated party looking down through history at the event, clean, untouched- we were all mixed up in it. Then we knelt down to pray. The service ended with only a bell ringing slowly. We all left in silence.

After the service, Keith and I waited in the hallway with Merissa, because she is going to be baptized on Easter Sunday, and we were going to meet with the Rector to discuss this. She went over the words of the sacrament and I was in wonder at the power of it.

From the first day we attended, I was in awe of the power of their liturgy; over and over again they say the most powerful and reverberating spiritual truths. They did not attempt to tie up the mystery in neat bundles of theology. They let the mystery speak for itself.

For baptism, there is a part where the choir sings the prayers and the congregation responds. This is what they will pray on Easter over our daughter:

"Deliver her, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.

(Congregation:) Lord, hear our prayer.

Open her heart to your grace and truth.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Fill her with your holy and life-giving Spirit.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Keep her in the faith and communion of your holy Church.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Teach her to love others in the power of the Spirit.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Send her into the world in witness to your love.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Bring her to the fullness of your peace and glory.

Lord, hear our prayer.

And the Rector will say:

Grant, O Lord, that all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection and look for him to come again in glory, who lives and reigns now and forever, Amen.

The Rector said that some of the wording of this sacrament was quite old and that originally, hundreds of years ago, people were baptized very early in the morning on Easter, outside and by the water. For some of the service, they stood facing west, into the darkness. But when they took their baptismal vows, they physically turned to face the dawn and the light that was filling the sky.

When she told me that, I almost shivered with this feeling of awe. I like this church very much.

When I was resting with Jesus later that day, I kept thinking of the contrast between His entrance into Jerusalem and the end of that week. It had never been made so real to me.

"Why?" I asked Him, lost in thought.

And Jesus reminded me what it was that He did first, once He was in Jerusalem. It swam up into memory- Jesus cleansed the temple. I suddenly understood that in a new way.

"You weren't supposed to do that!" I exclaimed. "You were supposed to go to the seat of Pontius Pilate and throw him out!"

Then I remembered His response to the atrocity story that was told Him:

"It was just at this moment that some people came up to tell him the story of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with that of their own sacrifices. Jesus made this reply to them: “Are you thinking that these Galileans were worse sinners than any other men of Galilee because this happened to them? I assure you that is not so. You will all die just as miserable a death unless your hearts are changed! You remember those eighteen people who were killed at Siloam when the tower collapsed upon them? Are you imagining that they were worse offenders than any of the other people who lived in Jerusalem? I assure you they were not. You will all die as tragically unless your whole outlook is changed!” Luke 13:1-9, Phillips

Kenneth Bailey makes this point:

"The stunning climax of the twice-repeated refrain is the call for the listeners themselves to repent, lest they also perish. This unexpected thrust gives us an illustration of the courage of Jesus... In studying Luke 13:1-5 with Middle Eastern classes, the present writer has often had students marvel that Jesus was not physically attacked on the spot."

-Through Peasant Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey, chapter 5: Pilate, the Tower and the Fig Tree

Jesus was frequently failing to live up to everyone's expectations of how the Messiah should act, and not only disappointing, but outright offending. Entering Jerusalem in a triumphant, prophetic way and then not turning on the outsiders, but turning His zeal instead on the temple- that is just such an offensive moment.

Then I remembered this:

And His disciples remembered that it is written [in the Holy Scriptures], Zeal (the fervor of love) for Your house will eat Me up. [I will be consumed with jealousy for the honor of Your house.]

-John 2:17, AMP

I was thinking about how true that was- how Jesus braided a whip of cords. I often wonder if that took some time to do and if He did it silently, intently, His face set while His passion burned in His heart. I wonder what the disciples thought Jesus was going to do. This an event that is hard for me understand, because I am not familiar with Jesus' anger.

But it wasn't so much anger as it was passion. Jesus was consumed with jealousy for His Father's house.

You are My house, Jesus whispered to me, just as I was thinking this.

The truth and the significance of that washed right through me, leaving me speechless. We are the His temple, His house. Jesus is consumed with passionate jealousy for us.

I thought I was outside this story, but I was in it. I was at the heart of it. I was praising Him to the highest heavens one day, but all mixed up; I was thinking I could buy my way into God's favor, make Him a short cut to the places I wanted to go, that God's house was for me and mine, not for all.

I wanted to preserve my way of life, my place, my significance in the way I defined it, so I was in the crowd, crying out to crucify Him, to get Him out of the way, to drown out His voice so I could hear my own.


those waiting in the anterooms of power,
they place you up on an iron throne
and cast down the crowns
of their discontent-
as though bidding on some awful commodity

they've been shouting in the marketplace
and for passing them by and laughing
the world will pay.

when god comes, who will
have the last laugh then-
they will march you out for their
bloody victory, fists raised high.

though you are passing through the field
going by the back way
giving your shirt, turning the cheek
praising the meek
they don't know this.

when you passed out your
invitations to the wedding,
they passed by that pleasure for duty.

they will always do their
god forsaken duty
in the back rooms
of looming buildings

while you are out
gathering up waifs for the feast

they can’t keep that kind of company
they will gather outside the doorway
in a dark and holy huddle,
weeping and muttering
waiting for god

but you, they say-
but you-

you cannot even

come down off your cross