To Bind Up the Broken-Hearted
It has been Lent for a year. Our lenten liturgical observances, faithfully as we tried to mark the season, seemed to keep dissolving into the long siege of the last thirteen months. We’ve grown weary of even the recitation of the wave upon wave of calumny, crisis, catastrophe. And still the surf is rough; still there is pestilence stalking the land; still strife and discord mar our common life.
Now comes Holy Week – the week of broken hopes, intimate betrayals, and the murderous madness of crowds. The biblical story sends us careening on a rickety wooden roller coaster of parades and songs, screaming matches in the temple, dinner parties with dear friends, corrupt officials, fervent prayers, frustrated and duplicitous revolutionaries, police beatings, precious gifts, denial by allies, tears, suicide, atheistic nihilism, bread and wine, state-sponsored torture and execution. Forget about the movies; read your Bible. Truth is far more gripping, far more terrifying, far more damning than fiction. Because the Bible is not, primarily, a window into the past. The Bible is a mirror. As one of our seminarians remarked last week, “You know what Ecclesiastes says: there is nothing new under the sun.” Rather surprisingly, the student went on to say, “I take great comfort in that.” A wise insight. Because redemption comes, too.
Holy Week is not about something that happened twenty centuries ago – not only about that, at any rate. It’s about what happened last year, and what will happen this week, and, unless Jesus returns first or something changes, what will happen a decade from now, and twenty centuries from now. Holy Week is about how we behave, and how God responds, and our option to change. At its core, it’s about how this week could be different, how the next decade could be different, how a century hence the world could be very different. It could be, if we want it badly enough, a much deeper, clearer reflection of God’s reign and the paradise for all people that this world was made to be.
There have been moments in the endless Lent of 2020-2021 when I wondered if we were going to make it. I wondered how we – humanity – would manage to endure and redeem our days, and our children’s futures. And my determined plunge into the history of the US and Virginia – which includes the history of my own ancestors – did not improve my outlook. We are capable of so much evil. I know that I am capable of it; the same blood flows through my veins. I am capable, in perhaps less cinematically dramatic ways, of all the same denial, anger, partisanship, fear, despair, and betrayal as the characters in the biblical Holy Week saga.
Holy Week takes us out of busy, linear time and into the ancient story so that, once a year anyway, we are brought face to face with the mirror. Holy Week lays it out before me; I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. We are shown the price that we pay for our resistance to God and God’s ways – ways of justice, truth, compassion, generosity – what we used to call “righteousness”. Not self-righteousness, but being right with the ways of God. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! Mercifully, we are not left there, naked under the stadium lights and surrounded by darkness. Not for long. A different kind of light is breaking through.
Jesus has been shining that light all along – giving sight to the blind of eye and heart, giving speech to those muted by tongue and society, healing those whose skin had made them outcasts, restoring sanity to the mad. He has set free those oppressed by sin and those oppressed by religion; he has offered release from captivity to money. He has reminded (or threatened, depending on your perspective) us that God is sovereign and Caesar is not. Jesus has described the Kingdom of God – that is, the way the world is meant to be – in the most ordinary and intimate terms. That Kingdom, he has repeatedly insisted, has come VERY near. You can reach out and touch it! And yet, all around his words and deeds, swirl the problems that we continually create for ourselves.
I wonder where those gaps are in your life. I wonder where the glimpses of paradise exist alongside the fumes of hell itself. For me it is sometimes a juxtaposition of events, but just as often, it’s a contradiction in my own soul. Overwhelmed by my own weakness and the brokenness of this world, I need a clear path to redemption in this life.
Jesus was no fool, no dummy, no Pollyanna. He knew perfectly well what was going on around him and in the hearts of those gathered near him, as well as in the hearts and minds of the establishment of his day. He knew. At the Passover supper, when he knew his time was short, he boiled it down, with one catchphrase that summed up the whole project, the whole plan, the whole promise. One sentence. I give you a new commandment, he said:
Love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another, he said. And that is the answer to all of the tribulations of Holy Week and this mortal life. Jesus did not say, “like each other.” He wasn’t talking about warm fuzzy feelings or about love-ins or even about having a high opinion of someone. He did not mean “feel love”. He meant “DO love.” He meant, do for any human what you’d do for a beloved family member. Wash their stinky feet. Stand up for what is right. Speak the truth. Forgive. Restore the alienated. Fix what ails people. Feed the hungry. Put money and politics in their place – in service to the Kingdom of God, not personal advantage over other people. Respect the dignity of every human being, even a lunatic running around naked in the cemetery. Let the children come up close. Go to the towns of people whose grandparents hated your grandparents and get to know them. Refuse to scapegoat the women. Recognize the good in your enemies. This kind of love is not mushy or sentimental or even familial, as Jesus made shockingly clear. The children of God are my family. Those who seek to live into the ways of Christ are my family. Imagine that world for just a minute. It’s the Kingdom, isn’t it?
Bishop Curry has got it right. The only way to heal the hurt in this world is love. Tough, tender, heroic, sacrificial, compassionate, indefatigable love. So roll up your sleeves, because - - -
Oh, just one other thing. It’s Holy Week, and that means that just after it gets the darkest, LOVE will conquer it all. All hate, all fear, all degradation, all despair, all alienation, including that enemy that rolls them all into one: death. Love will conquer death. The grave will be empty. And we have a role to play.
So roll up your sleeves, because. . . yeah, it’s Friday all week long. . . but Easter is coming.
Love to each one of you, and through you to all God’s children.
Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson.