Monday, March 29, 2010

My experience on Palm Sunday: Descending into the Valley of Holy Week where I already dwell

On the church calendar, we officially began Holy Week yesterday on Palm Sunday. But for me, Holy Week began in early March with the deaths of several people dear to us at St. Paul’s. My experience of Holy Week this year is especially woven into the memorial services we held last Thursday for Thomas Buckley and on Saturday for Joseph “Pepe” Humphrey.

Tom Buckley was a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Simeon, a small church a few miles from here. His family asked if we could use our space for his service, so of course we opened our doors and our hearts. He was only 53, and died suddenly the Saturday before last. Tom was a neo-natal care nurse, and known and loved by many both inside the University of Virginia Medical Center, and in the community at large. He was a friend to many in our congregation, so a service for him with us was only fitting. We had more than 600 people at his service, and the outpouring of love for him and his family was huge.

Pepe Humphrey was a scientist of formidable intellect and achievement, holding professor posts in both the engineering and the biology departments of the University of Virginia. He was among the first people we met when we came to Charlottesville; he and his wife Sally were members of All Souls Parish in Berkeley, where I had previously served before coming here. He had been fighting cancer for several years, and it was my privilege to walk with him the last two years of his illness. To me, Pepe was a theologian; he never tired of asking where God dwelled in the workings of the universe. Pepe died March 1.

We’ve recently lost three other beloved members of St. Paul’s: Carol Hine, Kitty Olton and Charlotte Scott. It was my privilege to preside at Mrs. Olton's memorial service earlier this month; although I did not know her, I was much touched by the reflections of her children about their mother and her love of life and love of people.

So I must acknowledge at the outset that I enter Holy Week with a weariness of death, and a weariness of so much sadness. I’ve been dwelling in Good Friday for a few weeks already. I did not need the passion story to get there.

Indeed, hearing the passion story of Jesus on Palm Sunday felt particularly difficult for me this year. I could hear the cries of those who loved Jesus as he slipped from their grasp; those cries felt very real to me yesterday for they were the cries of real people right here. The story of the crucifixion so long ago seemed very present in the pain of families living now with the reality of losing someone they dearly love. As we told in church the age-old story of the passion, I found myself listening for a glint of hope, a place of rest, a moment of comfort, but I heard none – at least not in the words.

The hope for me Sunday was in the palms.

The hope was the in laughter as we circled the nave, waving our palms and having a bit of fun in church. I saw hope in the faces of our children as they carried their palms, and later as they marched back into church to the hymn “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” And my hope came in seeing people – so many people – come to the Table for Holy Communion, to share with each other for a few moments in the hope of life eternal, and life where weeping is no more. The hope that will carry me through Holy Week was in the faces of kids, and in tasting the bread and wine, and hearing the music.

This is the week we descend to the valley of the shadow of death; this is the week when we march to the Cross, and the week we when we come face-to-face again with the hard questions of death and life.

Easter will come, but not yet.
Collect for Monday in Holy Week
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
Art by He Qi (Chinese)

1 comment:

Daniel said...

It's Collects like today's that remind me of the line from the Burial Service: "in the midst of life, we are in death."
I'm prompted to think, however: "in the midst of death, we are yet in life!"
In the midst of Christ's suffering and sorrows, we are reminded of WHY he suffered for our sins--to bring us the joys of everlasting life. My mother knew that confidence well, and she taught me, through her death, to share in that strength of faith.

Thanks be to God, indeed!!