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HOMILIES FOR THE THREE DAYS 2017

Pr. Craig Mueller

 MAUNDY THURSDAY

Your mind or your body? Who’s in charge?

I love a book called Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs your Body More than It Thinks. Many of us aspire to cerebral, disembodied careers—assuming they require more intelligence than other lesser things we might do.

Yet Guy Claxton argues that we are built primarily for action. Thinking or understanding is secondary. He goes on to say that the brain is servant, not master of the body.

Such thinking—so to speak—fits quite well with the liturgies of the Three Days that we begin tonight. Good news! We will not be discussing doctrine or going into our heads. Rather we will move about. And we will be moved. With our bodies and with our senses we—the body of Christ—will experience servanthood, surrender, death and resurrection, new life.

And actions? Tonight we wash feet. This puts many of us in an awkward position, literally and figuratively. We may feel strange or vulnerable. Yet this is a safe place. To receive, to be touched, to be served—perhaps by a stranger—is powerful. It may move us. And it may move us to more boldly live our baptism. To stoop low. To put aside privilege. To find Christ revealed in those poor or marginalized, those with broken bodies or wounded hearts.

Here we learn that actions speak louder than words. It gives a whole new meaning to what makes something “great.” As one writer puts it: “It turns around the question ‘who will admire me and serve me and meet my needs?’ It asks instead, ‘who must I acknowledge, and how can I meet their needs?’ It turns ‘what's in it for me?’ to ‘what do I have to offer?’”

If you are willing, I invite you to move to an open chair during the footwashing. There will be four stations throughout the sanctuary. If one station has a lot of folks waiting, please move to another. Read the brief instructions in the bulletin. Let us make this a holy space to encounter grace. To practice in here what we trust our baptism will look in our everyday lives.

Allow yourself to be moved. By the stories. By the beauty of ritual, or the music, or the community. Or by the sheer honesty of it all. Trust what your body experiences. In other words, the stuff of relationship, of art, of religion, of everything it means to be human. For these things signal what we care about. What gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

David Phillipart writes about the utter loveliness of these Three Days:

Another year passed and there are more possibilities of drowning,
more places in which to escape love.
But then sun and moon conspire to bring back this three-in-one day,
this festival of old words that still bite
and this rehearsal of stiff gestures that teach us to dance, even to fly.

He names how these bodily gestures move us, how they’re so real, so true. They put stars in our eyes and blow a bit of breath into our earthen frames.

Give your brain a break the next three days. Let your body experience the springtime gift of renewal, of dying and rising with Christ.

 

GOOD FRIDAY

“What is truth?” Pilate asks.

 Our passion reading is filled with questions. Whom are you looking for? Where are you from? Are you a king? And the unsetting one: what is truth?

 They were posting the sermon title on the sign in front of their church. It was after the tragic 2004 tsumani in Southeast Asia that killed 250,000 people. The sermon title was: “Where is God When Tragedy Strikes.” Apparently, there were no question marks in their set of old-fashioned little white letters for the sign.

 Wouldn’t it be great if we could live with no question marks? Sail through life with certainty?

 Good Friday brings its own set of questions. Why did Jesus have to die? What is the meaning of his death for us today? What is the deep truth of the crucified and risen Christ? And how is this paschal mystery connected to the deep truth of our lives?

 Some say we are living in a post-truth society. This morning I read an article saying this is nothing new. It was written by a former evangelical who described a “biblical worldview” common to many Americans for many years. It distrusts information from the scientific community or the so-called media elite. It leads easily to the concept of fake news, and thus to closed minds.

 What is truth? One professor who teaches students with this mindset encourages them to be skeptics rather than cynics. The skeptic looks at something and says, “I wonder.” The cynic says, “I know and stops thinking.”

 Five centuries ago, Nicholas of Cusa wrote, “God is the unknown infinite who dwells in light inaccessible. God’s great gift to us is ‘to know that we do not know.’”

 Perhaps life’s biggest questions center around suffering and loss.

 Miriam Greenspan writes of a pilgrimage she made with her father to the towns and concentration camps in which his family had perished. Her father wanted to place a symbolic stone at their non-existent graves, and to say the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead. “This would be a way to heal before I die,” he said, having just turned eighty. You can imagine all the question marks from his life.

 As they entered the gates of one of the death camps, Miriam was struck by the silence—as though a time-defying horror had frozen everything in place. 

They saw the shower room where inmates were taken before being sent to the gas chambers. The dissecting table where bodies of the dead were plundered for valuables.  And the crematorium with only ovens in the room. That’s where they came to a full stop. Candles and flowers were left at the entrance to each oven. A rabbi and tour group were reciting the Twenty-third Psalm. There were muffled sobs of other pilgrims. And then everything receded into silence. Into the mystery of unanswerable questions.

Miriam writes that her father didn’t exactly heal from that visit, but he did come to a greater sense of peace. When she got back to the hotel later, Miriam could feel the force of life flowing through her body in a profound way.

On this Good Friday we lift the cross high over our heads. Here time is suspended. We pause before the mystery of our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. And the moments of loss, of dying and rising throughout our lives.

We too are struck by the silence. There are no words. We are in the presence of mystery. So we do what Christians have done for centuries. With our bodies we come forward to honor the cross: perhaps to pause before it . . . to kneel . . .  to bow . . . to touch the wood . . . or to kiss it. Feel free to do what is most comfortable for you—to move freely to the cross, several persons at a time. To sit or linger for a moment. Or to stay in your pew.

For the cross is healing. For us, he cross is new life. The cross is resurrection.

For now, let us return to the story. Bringing our questions, bringing our hopes and prayers, and bringing our longing for Easter.

John Buchanan, “We Have No Question Marks or Knowing What We Do Not Know,” 13 February 2005.


EASTER VIGIL

Wade in the water, wade in the water, children.

Wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water.

I didn’t really understand these lyrics until recently. The spiritual was sung by slaves. Harriet Tubman used this freedom song to warn escaping slaves to get off the trail and into the water. That way chasing dogs and their keepers wouldn’t be able to sniff them out.

Howard Thurman, an African American spiritual writer from last century, said that for the slaves, the troubled waters represented the pain, the oppression and the struggle—the ups and downs of the people.

Do not shrink from moving into choppy seas. God is troubling the water. There is healing and freedom in the water. For God is in the midst of the turmoil. God is in it all.

Out of watery chaos, God continues to create new life today. God troubles the water. As people today pass through the water to justice, freedom and liberation, God troubles the water.

And now we come to this large tub, trough, font – where God will trouble the water here and now. Where Merlin and Josh will die with Christ. Where all of us will renew our vows to live from this water, to live from this night. To join with God in troubling the water. In signs of resurrection, hope and new life for our world.

Wade in the water, wade in the water, children.

Wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water.