Harrowing Of Hell
March 31, 2015

Holy Tuesday 2015: The Hard Sayings

Preacher: Mike Evans

As you all know by now, we’re into Holy Week and are moving towards the Triduum, the most momentous, solemn, and joyous part of the church year. We’ve reenacted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and are reading about events that have happened now that he’s there and witness his growing premonitions as to as to coming events.

The reading today from John is unusual and not one that we hear regularly. Who are these guys from Greece anyway? Given the distance that they’ve probably come, it looks as if Jesus has become really big news.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus!” To which we might answer, “No Kidding!” I’d guess that most of us have uttered this thought in the past, and can identify with their interest and curiosity.

By now, however, Jesus’ concerns as to what he’s heading into are paramount in his mind, so, as far as we know, they don’t end up with an audience with him. As Doyt recounted last week, Jesus’s soul is troubled, no surprise given the situation that he finds himself in.

However, he’s not keeping to himself. He continues to make enemies, this time by driving folks out of the temple and interrupting business as usual for the temple priests. Jewish authorities have been after him for some time. The Roman authorities will soon decide that he’s a threat to public order. He’ll have to go.

In the midst of this, he gives his friends advice that they and we probably can’t understand. Love your life and lose it, hate it and have eternal life. What?

I think that a better translation of this is offered by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

“ …. Anyone who holds onto life as it is deserves that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”

One way or the other, this can be added to the list of so-called “hard sayings” of Jesus, those that are hard to understand, or that have difficult implications for us as individuals or a community. To name a few:

  • Hate your father and mother.
  • Sell all you have and give it to the poor
  • The poor you will always have with you (one we heard last night, and a saying that I think is frequently misinterpreted)
  • If your eye offends you, pluck it out
  • Deny yourself and take up your cross
  • Do this for the least of these …

All of these sayings relate to and perhaps trouble our sense of priorities, values and commitment. A local Rector once stated in a stewardship letter that our challenge is to decide whether we want to be followers of Jesus, rather than just friends of his. As Doyt has stated, there is a difference.

Being a follower of Jesus can involve issues and choices that may well be difficult. A number of us went to an Israel-Palestine conference several weeks ago, where we were given an admonition that getting active in this issue can be difficult and result in loss of friendships. I suspect that this would hold true whichever side of this issue one might find oneself on.

On a local level, talk to any number of neighborhood churches around here that have decided to host Tent City, and the sort of reaction they often get from the neighbors.

There’s a well-known pastor in Oklahoma City named Robin Meyers who has written several books on these matters. His latest book is coming out next month, and is titled Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance. It has great pre-release reviews from notables including Phyllis Tickle, Brian Maclaren, and no less than Desmond Tutu, and sounds like a book that would be interesting to read in a small group.

What sort of issues, themes and choices might such a beloved community become concerned with? Here are my ideas for a few:

  • Justice as well as charity.
  • Advocacy as well as piety.
  • Discipleship as well as friendship.
  • Concern for neighbor and the common good, as compared to concern for self.

I’m sure that Robin could bring up others.

Holy Week presents a prime opportunity for self –assessment as we seek to be more intentional followers of Jesus. I’ve spent time in these past weeks of Lent considering some of my not-so-admirable traits, including tendencies towards:

  • Pride
  • Self-righteousness
  • The tendency to be opinionated and outspoken

For those of you who don’t know me well, I’d refer you to anybody who has been with me at Education for Ministry over the past several years, or (to quote Tom Foster’s way of saying it), check with the woman who I live with, or the ladies that she knits with on Thursdays.

In the past, I’ve been particularly aware of these shortcomings during Holy Week, when by Easter we encounter throngs of folks who show up for Easter Day and not much else. But I try to remind myself that I grew up in a mainline church that essentially didn’t observe Lent, and maintained this sort of attendance schedule for a number of years.

This has gotten easier for me here lately, especially as we’ve watched the Vigil attendance grow from about 50 in the past to almost 200 over the last two years. Kudos to Doyt and the liturgy team for all of the appropriate emphasis that they’ve placed on this special week.

There’s every reason to believe that this growth will continue. I hope you’ll all be here for Good Friday, obviously the least “easy” service of the church year. We’ll be doing a passion setting composed by Craig Phillips, one of Tom’s successors at All Saints. I can say that the music can best be described as brutal. It fits the tone of Good Friday, and will probably evoke feelings in all of us akin to what we would have all experienced if we had been there in person.

My prayer for all of us is that we have a meaningful Holy Week as we strive to deepen our commitment to be followers of Jesus, and look forward to a joyful culmination this weekend.