Brussels in Holy Week
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, March 22, 2016.
There was another act of terror in Europe today. I was going to do a brief meditation about wheat grains, and death, and this moment in Holy Week. But this moment got even more intense with new violence in Belgium. And because of the events of this day my message grew. Our prayers are with the people of Brussels and with all of those who were injured, those who died, those who mourn, and all who are feeling the trauma of another act of violence and terrorism, not just in Europe but around the world. Forces that are seeking to tear down and destroy, forces that celebrate death, control and diminishment… are in our world, in our time, as they were in Jesus’ day. Despair seeks to grip even more tightly even… as we walk the days of Holy Week…with Jesus…and with one another.
The presence of the cross is palpable, most especially in Holy Week. It will fade into the background in other seasons…. and how wonderful it will be to celebrate Easter season, as an Easter people, as we pack up the images of Good Friday for another year. But the reality is that Good Friday is always with us. Good Friday is intimately and inextricably bound to the promise of Easter. Death and life are two sides of the very same coin. Jesus has spoken about his impending death, and he does so again in today’s lesson from John. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This holy intersection where death and life are intimately dwell in the very heart of our faith.
Years after my seminary studies ended, I learned even more about the importance of holding up the cross as a lens through which to view life, faith, and scripture, by sitting with fellow Lutheran colleagues. While I was the interim missioner for the cluster of five churches in Skagit Valley, I would meet with a group of Lutheran pastors on Tuesday mornings for “Text Study” in which we would explore and discuss the scripture lessons that we would be preaching on the following Sunday. Lutherans are vigilant about holding up the lens of the cross in the study of scripture and in preaching… they view faith in the light of the cross… the place of transformation where death and new life meet. They also tend to wrestle with the dynamics between “Law and Gospel” and “sin and grace.” In one session we discussed Jesus’ story of a grain of wheat that we heard again today. The grain of wheat… in order to bear more fruit, more life, more wheat…must fall into the grown and die. If the grain remains unburied, the hardened shell that protects the embryo of new life that dwells within each seed, (and it is called and embryo), will stay just as it is, a seed full of potential that, in its present state, is dormant, and can remain still and dormant for a very long time. Paleo-biologists have sprouted seeds, recovered from Egyptian tombs, that have been dormant for thousands of years. Seeds that have not been buried in warm, moist soil won’t have their shells softened so that they may fall away completely and allow germination to occur. A shell is important and useful as protection to preserve the embryonic life inside the grain while it is above ground. But the seed cannot germinate and grow into a new plant unless the shell softens, loosens and falls away by being buried and enveloped in soft, warm soil. The shell that had once protected the potential life of the seed must die and fall away completely.
In the Lutheran text study group we were blessed to have colleagues from two Hispanic congregations that were made up primarily of immigrant farm workers in Skagit Valley. Mexican immigrants worked the soil and harvested crops with their hands and bodies, and knew, in a most visceral way, this meeting place of death and new life. They also knew great hardship. In all of our text studies together I learned the most from Emilio and Eduardo as they brought their perspectives as pastors of a marginalized community of faith. Sitting with them encouraged me not to get too comfortable with my first interpretation of a scripture lesson. I was encouraged to let go of the easiest answers and try, as best I could, to pick up a lens of disenfranchisement and marginalization. I was encouraged to let some of my closely held understandings as a person who has had the benefits of higher education and privilege in our society. I was encouraged to let the easy interpretations fall away so that I could hear and learn something new from our sacred texts. I learned by sitting with and listening to these pastors… who knew a life very different from mine… men whom I admire greatly.
Farm working children in Skagit Valley, children from families to whom Emilio and Eduardo pastor, published a book of their writings entitled Dream Fields: A Peek into the World of Migrant Youth. Along with his piece entitled “Suffering in the Fields” by 12-year-old Robert included a simple drawing showing rows of berries with many workers picking the crop, and trucks waiting to to transport the berries from the fields. He wrote:
I am Roberto. I’m twelve years old. In the summer I work in the fields. I do strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and sometimes I do blueberry. We in our family are ten, four sisters and four boys. We live in a house.
I was working in the fields and saw a lot of people working, even little kids. I felt that their parents were suffering. I thought, this is me too, suffering in the fields, getting wet in the morning, hot in the afternoon, going home late.
There is great suffering in the fields… In hearing the stories of the suffering of others we have the opportunity to share the pain and to let it break us open a bit more, to grow our hearts of compassion. There is great life and great potential in sharing the richness of diversity life experience and perspectives. Most human stories include pain. Some more than other. Each of us has a unique background a unique understanding of what it means to be human. When we come together to share our stories and to reflect on our life as a people of God and dare to enter into their pain, new life has the potential to spring forth and take root.
In these raucous and contentious times, the tendency, too often, is to hold fast, hold tightly, gird up, and build walls, enhance our divisions… lest control is lost and mayhem ensues. It seems that many hearts are hardening and closing down. Rage and anger are emotions that tend to be the outward expressions of deep fear that shields, protects, and eventually walls-off sensitive and wounded hearts. God’s light of hope and love is seeking to make its way into every last corner and hidden crevice of this broken world and into every heart that, at its core, is hungry for healing, connection, nurture, and belonging. The transforming message of the cross, the truth of the cross, the pain and life of the cross is, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” We preach Christ crucified.
As Christians we walk these days in the light of our faith. It is not an easy walk. God said to the prophet Isaiah: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God’s salvation continues to reach out even to the most desolate and hardened of hearts. We walk in the light of faith in troubled times.
On this Tuesday in Holy Week Jesus is continuing his life mission. He is marching head-on towards Good Friday. The labor pains are intensifying. There will be new life. The realization of God’s dream for a better way is struggling to be born.
The prophet Isaiah said:
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; * let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; * incline your ear to me and save me.
For now we breathe… one breath at at time… and continue the walk towards the cross… one step at a time. There will be death before new life. Keep the faith for yourselves, for our nation, and for the world.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31