Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021
St. Martin, North Vancouver
“Frames of Reference”
May the love in our hearts meet the love in Your Heart, that we may know your forgiveness, mercy, and grace through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
I’ve been looking back over the photos I have of my father-in-law, who died earlier this year. Each captures a moment of his life, but there are so many gaps. In one, he is cradling his first grandchild, a look of bemusement on his face. I knew so little about him, really, even over the decades of our relationship. Even when our loved ones are gifted with sharing stories and skills, we don’t always appreciate them at the time. But in those snap-shots I can glimpse a little of his nature and his values. They provide frames of reference in the midst of the sometimes complicated feelings and thoughts that come with grieving. A focus from the overwhelming big picture to the human moment. For me, they have become a bit like the stations of the cross.
When everything is too big and complicated, we get overloaded and maybe even stuck. It’s easy enough to shut down when confronted with all the news this week: racially motivated shootings in the States, local stabbings here in North Vancouver, human rights violations in Myanmar, political miscarriages of justice in China, pandemic numbers rising again. And that boat is still stuck in the Suez canal! It couldn’t win the struggle with all the forces ranged against it: the wind and the tides, human errors, and the weight it was carrying. The “Ever Given” had too many things going wrong at once. Experts are now trying to find a way to get that cargo ship freed from being wedged in that narrow waterway. But each of can only try and analyze the situation from their specific field of view. They have to take what they see and apply what they know.
None of us are experts at everything: engineering and politics and economics and justice and religion. God doesn’t expect us to understand it all. Certainly the followers of Jesus didn’t understand everything that was going on that last week of his life. Even the ones who remembered and wrote down accounts of the events only glimpsed bits and pieces of the truth. The stories and details that those first Christians have passed down to us, however, give us ways to focus on the passion at a very human level. These events, which have come to be known as the stations of the cross, show us love expressed and acted through the last acts of Jesus. The ones we hear this morning are from Mark’s gospel. He is one of four accounts that are in the gospels. Not all of them agree on the details or preserve the same episodes. But the gospel writers weren’t experts either. They share these moments with us to pause and ponder about love.
From the trial through torture and death to the tomb, we enter in to the story as witnesses to the love of God for creation. Each station is painted in words for us, sometimes only a few to set the scene. For example, the third station of the cross illustrated in the wood paintings at St. Martin’s shows Jesus falling under the weight of the cross, which he is being forced to carry to the place of crucifixion. In the gospel of Mark, a single Bible verse describes the incident: “They [the Roman soldiers] compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father-in-law of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21). Where are we in this moment? Are we part of the crowd, watching from the side in curiosity or disgust as this ragged rabbi is goaded down the street? Are we amongst the women who had supported Jesus in his ministry, weeping and despairing at his pain? Are we Simon of Cyrene, who willingly or resentfully steps forward to help shoulder the burden of shame and torture and gives Jesus a reprieve from the load? Or are we Jesus, looking with love even now on all who witness his suffering: the ones who keep apart, the ones who empathize, the ones who help? In one very small and intimate moment, we are invited into God’s frame of reference.
We were not there on the streets of Jerusalem in 30 A.D. on the feast of the Passover. Two thousand years later, human memory and human conflict have changed much. The landscape of the Via Dolorosa, or the way of sorrow that Jesus walked to the cross, has been obscured. Religious leaders and archeologists cannot say for certain that Jesus came down this road, or paused in this place. The spots are sacred because they have become markers for inner stations to people of faith. We do not- we cannot- know the whole story of how God came to earth to live and die among us in order to love us back into relationship. But we are still each a witness to what happened as the story is shared. When we encounter the stations of the cross, we proclaim the deep truth of God’s love.
In West Coast First Nations cultures, ceremonies of community importance, like weddings or agreements, have designated witnesses. These individuals are honoured at the event with gifts and respect. But they also bear a responsibility afterwards to tell the truth about what they experienced and what the ceremony means for the ongoing life of the community. On Aboriginal Persons Day, June 21, 2018, I was a witness for the raising of a house pole on the shores of Burrard Inlet in Port Moody. As an act of reconciliation, representatives of the Coast Salish and community groups in Port Moody gathered to drum, sing, tell stories, and feast together. The pole, carved by local Squamish artist James Harry, was dedicated and blessed at Rocky Point Park and then moved to its permanent home near the Noons Creek fish hatchery, near the archeological site where a midden of oyster shells marks an ancestral summer camp site. I am a white settler, and I do not know the stories and significance of much of the history of this place. But this moment marks for me the love and determination of those gathered to do the work of justice and respect for indigenous ways. As a witness, I try to tell the story because it is a small but important snap-shot of the narrative of reconciliation.
As we move into this holiest week of the Christian year, I invite you to find frames of reference for God’s love. Let the little acts of help, compassion, forgiveness, and comfort be signposts for you. Let us not be overwhelmed with the immense tragedies and injustices of our world. Rather, focus on the very human reminders of God’s love. As we witness to the power of love to reach across the chasms of indifference, fear, and oppression, we too will find strength to go forward each day. The promise is that if we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, love will lead us to life. Amen.