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It’s Holy Week. It is also the week that the Supreme Court begins hearings on gay marriage. I have a lot on my mind: if my daughter’s sweet purple Easter dress will be warm enough, how anyone can think that two people in love should not have the same legal rights as my husband and me, how I can make the story of the passion come alive around a camp fire on Friday evening, if it would be appropriate to print a large pink equal sign and hang it on the cross for Easter, what I can say that will be new on Sunday morning after 12 years of preaching, and did Jesus really have to die on the cross?
These questions seem unrelated perhaps, but in my mind this week they are weaving quite a brilliant, if not loud and gaudy, tapestry. Holy Week began for me with a bang on Palm Sunday. Too many times I have left Palm Sunday with my head hung low, waiting for the gruesome and violent story of Jesus’ death to unfold. In the past, the cliché of Palm Sunday—the crowds who cheered, “Hosanna in the Highest” were the same crowds who would later gather to chant “Crucify him!”—has dictated my experience of Holy Week.
Yet this year, with the Supreme Court hearings around the corner, hope seemed to permeate my thoughts as my Facebook account was flooded with pink equal signs. Two days before Palm Sunday a friend posted this powerful, short video from the Anti-Defamation League:
My Palm Sunday sermon and my experience of Holy Week has been shaped by this video. After watching, I was overwhelmed with a hope that broadened my own imagination. I wondered what the world would be like if Jesus, like Anne Frank, MLK, Harvey Milk, and others, didn’t succumb to an early, violent death. I wondered if the sort of pink hope that is catching like wild fire on Facebook is the same sort of hope that greeted Jesus on the road to Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. I wondered for the first time if Holy Week is at its core about hope, an expansive imaginative hope, rather than the violent Roman Empire that crucified people regularly in the ancient world. I wondered like an innocent college student the world hasn’t beaten down yet if I, along with others, embraced this wild hope if the world could truly be a different place.
And then I remembered the Lord of the Dance. I remembered that God’s imagination is much greater than any color we humans can paint on our Facebook accounts. I remembered that the story of Holy Week ends with a stone rolled away, linen clothes folded neatly and set aside, women scared and running, doubting men, and Jesus, raised, wounds still present, but hungry enough to fry up some fish on the lakeshore. We are the ones who have left hope out of the story, not God.
I have begun to re-imagine the entire story of Holy Week through the lens of an expectant, outrageously hopeful disciple, who stubbornly will not give up my imaginative hope. Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, I will not give up hope for equal marriage. Regardless what doom comes knocking on my door or the doors of my neighbors, I will not give up hope for love and life. Regardless if violence permeates our communities in such a way that children practice lock down drills in their elementary schools, I will not give up hope for a world without guns. Regardless come Friday, when I hear again the story of the state sanctioned death of Jesus, I will not give up hope for a different ending to the story.
I will not celebrate on this coming Friday the gruesome death of Jesus, but I will not hang my head. I will hold onto the imaginative hope that permeates Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
Yikes, do I have to use that word? Even if it is Lent? (see my former blog about Ash Weds).
Let me start from the beginning: My faith community began Lent this year by worshiping at common cathedral. Stop here: check out www.ecclesia-ministries.org. Common Cathedral is a church made up entirely of the homeless. It is a robust community, seeped in the gospel. During that first Lenten service Father Brian spoke about repentance. Initially, I wanted to flee the moment he uttered the word. My knee jerk reaction questioned his choice; shouldn’t he be speaking love to this group of marginalized people? Thankfully, I continued to listen to his faithful and loving words.
Father Brian reminded everyone gathered about the Lenten practice of repentance, why it was foundational in our faith journeys as we sought ever to grow closer to God. All things I had heard before. But then, he talked about Jessie Jackson Jr. He mentioned things most who had watched TV or read the papers knew: a Rolex watch, Michael Jackson’s fedora, corruption. Jackson apparently said to the presiding judge that he hoped people would remember him for the good he had done, instead of his “misuse” of campaign funds. And then the judge spoke powerful words to the corrupt politician: if he wanted to make things right, then Jackson needed to return the money.*
Wham! Repentance: Give back the money. Make things right. Sorry isn’t enough. Change.
I looked around me at the many faces that surrounded me that morning. I knew everyone in that crowd, from homeless to pastor to those in my own community, needed to repent of something. But I wasn’t thinking about the sort of repentance too often associated with an inability to live an “ideal” Christian life (whatever that is). But a difficult, authentic repentance in which we recognize the brokenness to which we cling. The judge at Jackson’s trial was calling the politician beyond a cheap repentance of regret to the difficult repentance of change.
Against my knee jerk reactions, I have tried to practice some repentance this Lent. (Don’t look to me for any serious advice on this matter, I am still a novice). I have tried (being the operative word) to at least acknowledge my own brokenness. I have tried to move beyond sorry to acting differently first. I have tried to do the real work of spiritual change. I’m still clinging to my brokenness, but in some small way this Lent, I recognize more clearly how that brokenness gets in the way of my relationship with God and with others.
Repentance? I can get on board if we in the Christian tradition start talking about real change.
*I have looked tirelessly for the newspaper article that confirms this is what the judge said, but I cannot. This is only what I remember from Father Brian’s sermon. As many know, we hear what we need to hear in a sermon, not necessarily what is spoken. Father Brian allowed me to hear that morning that repentance is about change, not guilt or some old fashioned doctrine. Thank you Brian.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.