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Friday after Lent V–April 3, 2009

  • Posted on Apr 4, 2009

Exclusion and Embrace

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. From the Good Friday Gospel reading from the Gospel of John 18:1-19:42

A different rhythm takes over as we approach Holy Week. At least for those who are immersed in church community. For those creating and revisiting these very sacred liturgies of Holy Week, there is the excitement of the once-a-year services. There are also the lapses of memory: what did we do on Maundy Thursday to remove the aubry candle from its spot during the stripping of the altar? Was it hot to the touch or not? Pressure mounts as all those involved in the services work together to make the liturgies deeply meaningful. But more than that, the rhythm of Holy Week takes on surreal movements in liturgical time. One moment I am firmly centered in the entrance into Jerusalem in the Liturgy of the Palms on Palm Sunday. The next I may be deeply embracing the suffering of the cross as I work on my sermon for Good Friday. The next afternoon, I am talking through the joyous movements of the Easter Day service with our organist Bill.

Moving backward and forward in the events of Jesus’ last days. One of the movements of Holy Week that stands out to me this year is the movement of Jesus’ followers in the lectionary readings from Palm Sunday onward. On Palm Sunday, the disciples gleefully follow Jesus into Jerusalem until it all goes very wrong. Then Peter, who vowed he would never deny Jesus, goes into hiding and the disciples scatter. At the end, the women are left at the foot of the cross. For the women, one moment they are close to Jesus, the next they are parted from him, then at the resurrection reunited. But not for long. It is a dance of exclusion and embrace. (Thanks to theologian Miroslav Volf for this term)

The passage at the beginning of this meditation is the passage which I am preaching on at the Three Hour service at Sharp Street Baptist on Good Friday. In that passage. Mary and Jesus perform the dance of saying goodbye to one another. There is the parting, the exclusion from one another. Then there is the embrace with the disciple whom Jesus loved. I am working with that image for the Good Friday and Easter Day sermons.

I am so blessed that I will be able to preach at Sharp Street Baptist this Good Friday. Sharp Street is the mother church of African- American Baptists. When I preach at these West Baltimore ecumenical churches, I know I have to be on my preaching game in a big way. I always have to be able to know the congregation to which I’ll be preaching. When I come to the ecumenical services, I am aware of the exclusion of church communities over race in years past. I am honored by the embrace that I receive by being included as a preacher. In my sermon, I want to embrace the community. It is still a tentative dance with vulnerabilities all around.

Exclusion and Embrace. As we approach Palm Sunday, be thinking about where is your deepest suffering this Holy Week. Such suffering is often rooted around a painful exclusion or parting. Bring it to the foot of the cross, to the Passion Gospel. Where is your most joyful embrace? Give thanks for it and bring it to the garden of the resurrection on Easter Day.