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March 20, 2005 (Palm Sunday Vespers)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

Brothers and Sisters, grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

The final chorus of the cantata, we just heard:

"Let us...follow the King in love and in suffering.
He goes before us and opens up the way for us."

Let us follow the King. The life of the Christian is one in which we are called to follow Christ, to follow the King, this is nothing new to most of us. It is a message that we have heard throughout our faith journeys.

Today, we crossed the threshold of Holy Week, and the path that Jesus walked this week leads to the cross. The road leads to a lonely, painful death. He was tried unjustly; he was beaten, and mocked by strangers; he was deserted and betrayed by friends. It's not a terribly pleasant image, and one that makes me uncomfortable. If I am truly called to follow Christ, then am I called to follow him on this path? This path that leads to the cross?

The answer is definitely yes. I am, you are, we are called to follow Jesus on this path, this path that leads to the cross. But I encourage you not to think of it in terms of death, but in terms of life. Because the cross of Christ signifies the ultimate love and concern of God. In the birth, life and death of Jesus, God expresses God's uncompromising love for God's people, for you. In the cross, Jesus experienced a depth of human pain--physical, psychological and spiritual that I cannot begin to comprehend.

But, he did experience it. Many times when we see pain, we run fast and far to get away from it. Whether it is our own pain, or another's, it is instinct for many of us to get away from it, or insulate ourselves so we don't have to engage it. So we bury it--with alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, TV--whatever we can find that distracts us from the pain. Or we avoid it--we absence ourselves from the lives of people whose pain we cannot bear to share.

In Jesus, however, we find someone who did not run from pain, his or others. He engaged others in their illness and anguish and helped when and how he was able. Other people in recent history have demonstrated this passion for helping others as well. Perhaps because I am reading a biography about him, I am reminded of Father Damien, and his work in the leper village on Moloka'i.

The author, whose work I am reading, wrote about how Father Damien's work met with the resistance of Protestants in Hawai'i. He suggested that it was not just because of the inter-denominational hostility--which was rampant; he presented a convincing argument that the hostility also came from Damien's willingness to engage the lepers in the colony. His passion to work alongside, to minister to, to eat with, and most shockingly, to touch them. The author made me wonder what it brought up in the minds and hearts of those who were not able to do this depth of work. Perhaps they felt guilt that the were not doing this kind of work; disgust at the thought of it; for some I wonder if they were not simply in awe of Damien and what he was doing.

Awe is what I experience when I hear or read about the ministry Father Damien, or Mother Teresa and countless others whose names I do not know--people who are able and passionate about entering into the lives of people the many of us would maybe rather not be bothered with--at least on a day to day basis.

When people who do this kind of work talk about it, it is not all suffering and woe, however. They almost all explain it as a joyful calling. They are able to see beneath the pain of others to the joy they find, and they are able to experience joy themselves with their work. And there is joy here for us, tonight as well. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, it is to the joy and exaltation of many--people who were passionate about his words and his work. And we know the end of the story, the joy of the empty tomb.

As in life, though, we must go through the pain as well. The empty tomb doesn't have the fullness of its power without the cross and the journey of Holy Week. As you journey this week, and in life, may you be given the strength and the passion to engage others in their pain, and in doing so, realize the fullness of the joy that compassion for others brings.


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