Palm Sunday 2013
When I was in third grade, I was waiting for the bus to take me home from school. A fifth-grade friend persuaded me to join him in a "short tromp" up the hillside away from the line of other waiting kids. There was a woodchuck den, he said. The bus was never on time anyway, he said. And we'd be right back, he promised. I was bored. Why not, I shrugged. There's time. So I went. Several minutes later we started back down the hill just in time to see the bus pulling away without us. So we walked home. A few miles. Most of it on the shoulder of a four-lane highway. We were about a half-mile from my house when the cops picked us up and took us the rest of the way.
My mother was waiting for me. I had never seen grief in her face but I saw it now, turning from anxiety into a white-hot rage. My mom was not a screamer. Her approach was way worse: she got down on her knees, right down at my level, eye-to-eye with me. Her face was taut with anger, her lips were pursed, and she put both hands firmly on my shoulders. "Now you listen to me…." she began in a quiet and even voice that could have split a rock. I don't remember the rest very well, but I do remember feeling the heat of her indignation made all the more unbearable by her total reasonableness. I wore my hair short as a kid, a buzz-cut that was standard issue for military brats, but I was pretty sure the hurricane force of her quiet voice was pulling the rest out by its roots. I just stood there and took it, limp as a kitten and when I tried to look away, she gently took my chin in her hand and pointed my eyes back to hers.
And that's when I saw something else. In her eyes there was that huge grief I had caught sight of when we drove up: a depthless love that said, If I ever lost you, especially to something so stupid, I don't know how I would go on. You are dearer to me than my own life. Somehow, in that weird way of connecting dots that eight-year-olds have, I knew two things: I knew my mother was my sworn enemy, that she was crushingly disappointed in me, would never trust me again and, basically, was ready to kill me were it not for the fact that death would spare me the weeks of being grounded I deserved. But also in that moment, I knew she was my best friend, my shepherd, my defender, the one person I knew who would gladly die for me in a heartbeat. And that's when I began to cry.
Every Holy Week, I think back to that moment, now fifty years ago. The story that unfolds from Palm Sunday through Good Friday and on to Easter, is the story of the Enemy who loves us. In the liturgies, we walk consciously the paths we walk every day, the paths of our own undoing, our excuses, our why not, our there's time. Against these things, God draws a line in the sand and opposes us. There we find ourselves confronted by God's white-hot indignation that we should treat His image so cheaply, with such disregard; we face God's judgment, feel the weight of His hands on our shoulders, hear His quiet and eternal voice telling us the whole truth about ourselves, and when we try to look away, we find Him guiding our eyes to look into the eyes of His Son Jesus.
And there we see that the God who opposes us, also acts on our behalf. We see Him give his life. For us. We spend enough time at the foot of the Cross so that it may begin to dawn on us that this is no accident, that God has not made a mistake in choosing us, that I am not some special desperate case beyond the redemption He affords to others, that His love is infinitely greater than His anger, His mercy broader than His judgment, His compassion deeper than His grief. We spend time looking into the eyes of the One who does this gladly, and would do it all again, in a heartbeat; though He does not need to do it again, since once for all is enough.
So check the Holy Week worship schedules of your local Episcopal parish, especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday. If you have something you have been meaning to get rid of, some old hurt you are tired of carrying around, some secret shame you are sick of hiding, some deep-rooted conviction that things are never really going to get better, bring it with you this week and spend some time with us — wayward Pilgrims, all, who, like you, missed the bus and are now walking home. The One who knows the way, Jesus the Messiah, has promised to get us there.
Faithfully in the Crucified,
The Right Rev. Dorsey W. M. McConnell