In One Sense…, Wednesday in Holy Week – 1999
March 31, 1999
“Little children, where I am going you cannot come.”
From John 13:33
In one sense, all that is about to happen is well known to us. For the events that unfolded during the first Holy Week are parts of our common story as members of the church. The solemn account of Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion, death, and resurrection are part of the fabric of our lives. What deep memories and cherished beliefs are awakened in your soul by the account of the Last Supper just read from St. John’s Gospel?
Some of us will recall family celebrations of Holy Week from the distant and not-so-distant past: simple, ceremonial meals shared at home or in the church undercroft; the “changing of the palms” – as supple new Palm Sunday leaves replace year-old ones in children rooms, and behind the family’s portraits of our Lord; and of course special prayers, shopping, cleaning, cooking and all the other myriad preparations for the Feast to come.
For some of us, the story of the Last Supper will trigger memories of the great liturgies of the church. Perhaps you recall the haunting service of Tenebrae with the solemn recitation of Psalms and gradual extinguishing of the lights of the church, which is observed in many parish churches on this night every year. And for all of us, there are recollections of participating in the Holy Eucharist: week in and week out, year in and year out. Recollections of being welcomed to – and fed at – the altar of Christ – God’s family table.
For some of us, John’s account of the Last Supper, the sad story of Christ’s betrayal, and the certain end that betrayal will bring, will spark recollections of diverse personal moments where our experienced seemed – however briefly – to intersect with that of our Lord. The Last Supper reminds us of moments when we have been betrayed; moments when our own cross loomed straight ahead.
Celebrating this profound connection between Christ and you and me is precisely what we are about as God’s chosen people in the days just ahead. We are all about remembering, recollecting, lifting up, and celebrating these shared moments of salvation history. And if we get a little tangled up and confused about what’s then and what’s now — what’s the Lord and what’s us — that’s probably OK. For this is our story. The solemn account of Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion, death, and resurrection are part of the fabric of our lives.
But if it is true that we are well versed in the ancient history we will recollect and celebrate over the next five days, it is likewise true that the events of the coming weekend will always remain a mystery to us.
A “mystery” is something that is unexplained, inexplicable, and unknowable. And the events we recollect and celebrate this weekend comprise the greatest mystery humankind has ever encountered. Who can imagine a God become human? Who would have guessed the depth of betrayal that God experienced? Who can conceive of a God who surrenders to death? Who can believe that death was — and is always — overcome by the power of God?
It is precisely the unknowable quality of the story that draws us back to it with such passion each year. Our memories make it more real – more tangible – but it’s the mystery that beckons us. It is the mystery that draws us back into the story again and again and again.
“Little children,” says Jesus this night, “where I am going you cannot come.” It is an unthinkable betrayal. It is too great a trial. It is too awesome a sacrifice. It is too tragic a death. It is too great a mystery. “Little children,” says Jesus this night, “where I am going you cannot come.”
But let us make our effort nonetheless. With watches and candles, and soap and water, and bread and wine and oil. With deep, deep prayers and dark silence and all the great stories of our common faith. With music and Psalms and chants and processions. With hymns and anthems and crosses both great and small. With the Holy Eucharist and Holy Baptism and all the hope our hearts can muster. Let us make this journey with our Lord as best we know how.
Because his story is our story â¦ and it has changed our lives forever.
And even if we cannot understand its mystery, we are still invited to be part of it!
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Sermons That Work podcast to hear this sermon and more on your favorite podcasting app! Recordings are released the Thursday before each liturgical date.
This season of the Sermons That Work podcast is sponsored by Church Pension Group, a financial services organization providing employee benefits, property and casualty insurance, and publishing to The Episcopal Church. Follow Church Pension Group on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn to learn how it’s been a stable presence in the Church for more than 100 years.