Reading Our Palms

At 10am on March 25 (Palm Sunday this year, and therefore not the Feast of the Annunciation), we will gather in the parish hall rather than in the church. After reading the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem, we will bless palm fronds and distribute them to the congregation. Singing “All glory, laud, and honor” and then reciting Psalm 118:19-29, we will process outside, down the sidewalk around the church and then into the church.

Once we have entered the church, however, our song of triumph quickly turns into a groan of remorse as we begin our week-long contemplation of Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of his friends and suffering at the hands of those who considered themselves defenders of the faith. If you are afraid to take a good hard look at yourself, Palm Sunday is a good day to stay home in bed, for even as we wave our palms, we know that our cries of “hosanna!” will soon turn to cries of “crucify him!” There’s a reason we burn our palms to make ashes for Ash Wednesday—we are only human, and to dust we will inevitably return.

I am particularly mindful of the mortality of our intentions this year as many of us make plans to attend rallies against gun violence on March 24th. These March(es) for our Lives in Washington DC, Indianapolis and South Bend are a response most recently to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th that left 17 dead and 17 wounded. More broadly speaking, they are also a response to the stream of shootings that has plagued this country in recent decades, a response that demands an end to gun violence.

In our own neighborhood, gun violence has taken the lives of Tysiona Crawford, D’Angelo Jennings, Tyshawn Taylor, and  Daekwon Tobar. This is just to name the deaths of teenagers in the first months of 2018 in South Bend. Draw the circle wider, and the numbers climb. A 13 year-old was shot (but blessedly not killed) just a few blocks from us a couple of days ago. These are our children  To say that we who march are mindful of our own mortality and that of our children is a gross understatement.

Let us also be mindful, however, of our own inconstancy. If there is anything we learn from “reading” our palms throughout Holy Week, it’s that we humans are easily distracted from our firm intentions, by fear, by fatigue and even by boredom. We rally when it means a road trip with our friends on a Spring Day, but we sometimes pass on the chance to share our views with hostile family members and friends or to go to the polls on a rainy day. Or we may vote, but base our votes (at the polls and in the legislature) on other values that seem more important (or more efficacious) at the time.

The fact that not everyone who marches in March will vote in May and November might incline us towards cynicism and despair. Before we give up on humanity, however, let us remember the most important lesson of Holy Week—that God has embraced us in all of our inconstancy, taking on all the implications of our mortality. Knowing ourselves to have come within the reach of that saving embrace, let us act in hope for our common humanity.

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A Pastoral Letter from our Bishop on the Charleston Tragedy

June 19, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

Shortly after the devastating news of the mass murders at Emmanuel AME Church began to spread, a deacon of our diocese wrote to me.  “Why?” he asked.  “How could such a thing happen in a sacred place?  What can I say to people who are looking for an explanation?”  I have pondered those questions for a day and still am unable to answer.  The “Why?” and the “How?” are unfathomable in the face of overwhelming evil.  Nine people are dead, brothers and sisters in Christ.  They were cut down solely because of their race.  How could one human being inflict such a thing on another?  How can we hear God’s voice in the midst of the storm of emotions – from fear to anger to bewilderment – that sweep over us?

In the end, we are reduced to silence and prayer.  I find myself seeking to be still in the presence of the Lord.  I find myself gazing at the cross, and into the face of the One who suffered immeasurably on our behalf.  I find myself allowing the questions simply to be, now and perhaps forever unanswered.  Meanwhile, we can seek comfort in the familiar and oft-prayed words of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer – words that themselves were written by people who asked the same questions and struggled with their own version of the same pain.

Here are some texts that have seared themselves into my heart.  Perhaps they will touch yours as well.  In the first, the Psalmist – like us – pleads for understanding, and then slowly, tentatively, recognizes the Lord presence, without “explaining away” the evil.

O God, why have you utterly cast us off?
Why is your wrath so hot against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation that purchased long ago,
and the tribe you redeemed to be your inheritance,
and Mount Zion where you dwell.
Turn your steps toward the endless ruins;
the enemy has laid waste everything in your sanctuary.
Your adversaries roared in your holy place;
they set up banners as tokens of victory.
Yet God is my King from ancient times,
victorious in the midst of the earth.
(Psalm 74:1-4,11)

In the second, the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus himself suffered our sufferings and prayed our prayers (indeed, his Prayer Book was the Book of Psalms).  He walked the way of the Cross not only to rescue us from sin, but also to drink to the dregs the pain of human life.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
(Hebrews 5:7-8)

And finally, two prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brothers and sisters Cynthia, Sharonda, Ethel, Tywanza, Clementa, Myra, DePayne, Daniel, and Susie, who were reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that their death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love.  Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way, and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 498)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son:  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 815)

I ask that this Sunday, in all the parishes of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, prayer be offered for the victims, for their families, for the city of Charleston and all touched by this tragedy, and for our nation.  With all blessings I am

Yours in Christ,
+Ed