St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder
Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of what in traditional Christian churches is called Holy Week. It is the most spiritually intense week of the year for Christians. It’s the time of year we seek to enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. To set the scene we just heard St. Matthew’s account of the Passion of Christ. If we were to follow the plan as it is laid out in the Book of Common Prayer, we would be back in church every day this week, where in the service of Holy Communion on Monday and Tuesday we would read through Mark’s account of the Passion; Wednesday and Thursday we would read through Luke’s account of the Passion; and on Friday, Good Friday, we would bring have the climatic reading of the Passion according to John. That’s pretty intense.
This is going to be an unusual Holy Week for me, and for you, since I’m not going not be here. On Thursday I am flying to Calgary where I am going to celebrate Easter with my children.
The last time was I was away from St. Mary’s for Easter was back in 2015, when on Monday of Holy Week I flew to Calgary to be with my father who had just checked into hospital. I ended up keeping Holy Week at his bedside, and then on Tuesday of Easter week moved him into the hospice, where I kept vigil at his bed-side until his death two weeks later.
Was that a Happy Easter for me? I wouldn’t say so. But then again did Jesus rise from the dead was so that we could be happy?
What kind of a religion has human happiness as it’s goal? Well, this is religion upon which The United States of America was founded. In the Declaration of Independence of 1776 it says, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Note the absence of any reference to the Scriptures.
So, you will hear people say, “If it makes you happy, who am I to object?”
I think this is the dominant form of religion here in Canada today, and it is not Christianity.
So what about “Happy Easter?” Nothing wrong with that, just understand the happy feeling is not going to last, and that ” Happy Easter” is actually not a Christian greeting. Easter is the name of pagan goddess of spring. Although I am just as glad as the next person to see the snow gone, especially after this winter, that is not what we are celebrating. The original Christian greeting leaves us no doubt as to what we are celebrating: “Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!” If Christ is risen, then sin has been forgiven, death has been destroyed, and we have a reason for hope, which seems to me to be in rather short supply these days.
So there I was during the first two weeks of Easter, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and at the same time, walking with my father to his death. It was without a doubt one of the intense Holy Week and Easters I have ever known. It brought home to me the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus is not just a story that we read about in the Gospels. It is not even something that happened once upon a time, long, long ago in a land, far, far away, which try to remember and celebrate on a certain date in the calendar.
The death and resurrection of Jesus properly understood is a present in every moment of our existence, something that gives shape to all of reality. It’s why we don’t say, “Christ was risen”, but “Christ is Risen.” Right here and right now. There is no time and no place on this earth where He is not risen. It doesn’t matter where you are, and whether you are dying of cancer, or walking on a beach, He is Risen. What is true of the Resurrection of Jesus, is also true of the death of Jesus. It’s the great reality that gives shape to our lives.
Here is how St. Paul put it, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; al’& ays carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” ( 2 Cor. 4. 8-12)
That is the most complete a description of the Christian life as you are to find in the whole of the New
Testament. Henry was right to call his Lenten Bible study on 2 Corinthians, ” Not a walk in the park.”
It’s the understanding that the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is something we participate in, right here and right now.
As St. Paul also who wrote, ” I am crucified with Christ. It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal.
For Paul every moment of his life, every breath, every step, had become Jesus’ death and resurrection.
If you have ever wondered, how on earth was Paul able to endure all the persecutions and sufferings he went in the course of his life, there is your answer.
It’s the failure to understand this that leads Christians to ask silly questions like, “How can a good and all powerful God allow all this suffering in the world?” or, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
You know when a person asks that question they obviously don’t have a prayer life that is shaped by the Psalms, where in the words of Psalm 22, which we will pray publically in church on Good Friday, we learn what belief in God entails. It means praying, ” My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” And it is by means of this prayer that the Church intends to draw you into the Passion of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
So when whenever you are moved to ask question, “Lord, why am I suffering like this?” we could just as well ask the question, ” Lord, Why are you suffering like this?”
When in baptism, we unite ourselves to Jesus Christ, my suffering becomes his suffering, and his suffering becomes my suffering. My death becomes his death, his death becomes my death. Then His resurrection, becomes my resurrection.
To live the Christian life is to breathe, walk, love, suffer, forgive and die in communion with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. So, when in Holy Week the Church tells the story of Jesus suffering, dying and rising, it is telling the story of our lives, which is simply the story of what it means to be a human being created in the image and likeness of God.
The season of Lent we have been learning repentance. We have been seeking in a small way, through fasting, prayer and self denial to embrace the Cross shaped life of God in Christ, to share in Jesus dying and rising. St. Paul instructed us to ,” Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry ( Col. 3-5) for, ” If you live according to the flesh you will die, but of by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8.13) . Paul is not telling us here not to sin, but rather to live into the death of Jesus.
The small group of men that meet here at St. Mary’s for Morning Prayer on Wednesday mornings, for the season of Lent have not gone out and enjoyed a full cooked breakfast in local restaurant, as has been their practice, but instead have made do with porridge oats and Red River cereal in the parish hall. One of the topics of conversation this Wednesday will be what we are going to do with the $600.00 or so dollars we would have spent feeding ourselves, but didn’t.
Let’s face it, there are many fasts in life that are far more difficult and demanding this, like the self sacrificing fast that parents bear in their love for their children, husbands for their wives, and wives for their husbands.
Unlike the fast of Lent which is voluntary, much of the sufferings of our lives are involuntary. We have no …—eFGce in the matter, but to suffer. Nobody chooses to get cancer.
But when the unbidden sufferings come our way, and when we embrace them in union with Jesus, they become for us the place where the deepest transformation of our lives takes place.
It’s this thought which informs a prayer which I have discovered which I want to share with you as my parting Easter gift. It’s the prayer of someone who is living their life in communion with Jesus in his death and resurrection. This is how it goes.
O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will.
At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.
Direct my thoughts and feelings in all my words and actions. In all unexpected occurrences, do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee.
Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely vsith every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.
O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen. ( Prayer of the Optima Elders)