Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday of Holy Week: A Practice of Presence

Monday in Holy Week Homily preached by Nathaniel Katz | All Saints Church, Pasadena 12:10 p.m. service

For me, today, the day after Palm Sunday, is spiritually the most challenging day of the Christian calendar. It's hard to know just how to approach this day. We have just come off the emotional and spiritual roller coaster that is Palm Sunday – palms waving in our hands, smiles on our faces, voices joined in singing joyous hymns. 

But very quickly, the tone changes as we read the Passion account and confront the sadness and horror that comes after Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. When we departed this place, it was in silence.

There is a profound silence - a liturgical silence...a spiritual silence - in Holy Week between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday. For four out of the 7 days of Holy Week, have a fairly clear sense for what we're meant to do. We have special services we attend. We know what to expect in those sacred spaces. 

These three days that come between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday we're left to fend for ourselves. Even the Book of Common Prayer - that one stop shop for all our Episcopal spiritual needs, isn't quite sure how to handle this day. The collect of the day appointed for this Monday in Holy Week is the same one to be read each and every Friday throughout the entire year. 

Of all the times to be silent...On a day when we can find ourselves so full of nervous energy from the anticipated tragedy, and nowhere to place that energy. We find ourselves desperately in need of a purpose, if not a distraction.

There is one person who knows what to do - Mary. Mary recognizes what the others in our Gospel reading do not - that time with Jesus is short. There is no time to be wasted in his presence. She recognizes what Jesus' presence means - that the God of creation has become present among us - so that we may be known to God and God may be known to us - not just intellectually, not just theologically, but personally, intimately.

There is no price tag that can be placed on that presence - a point that Jesus makes quite clear not just to Judas, but to all those assembled, and to us sitting here 2000 years later. 

During Holy Week, it can seem like there is a price to be exacted - for our sins, for our frailty, for our complicity in the denial and betrayal of Jesus. It can feel as if we're meant to figure out what that price is - guilt, sacrifice, penance.

What we learn in the Gospel today is what God truly wants of us in our lives - and especially during these next three days...God wants our presence, our love, and our affection. 

Mary's act is one of absolutely intimate affection. She lavishes Jesus with oil worth nearly an entire year's wages. But then she gives entirely of herself. She gives of her own body, using her hair to wipe Jesus' feet. Jesus is pleased with her affection. But more specifically, he is pleased by her intention. 

Mary has discovered God's deep desire for her through Jesus. And in this fleeting moment, Mary has found a way to express her understanding of God's desire for her, a desire expressed through Jesus.

Mary was blessed with insight...insight that no one else in that moment possessed - not even the disciples who had traveled with him...not even her brother Lazarus whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. Poor Lazarus, he just made it back to the land of the living and they're already plotting to get him back in the grave. 

Here, today, on this Monday of Holy Week, we benefit from Mary's insight, passed down to us by our ancestors in faith in this scripture we read. Mary teaches us that this week is not about punishment, but presence.

In these three days, we meet Jesus in his last days with us here on earth. We must remember that when we enter Holy Week, the events of the past become for us our very present reality. These are our precious few moments to meet Jesus in our lives with desire and affection before he takes his earthly leave. 

This is our time to be fully present to the God who came to us - the God who came out of desire for each one of us in the form of a helpless infant. This is our opportunity to embrace the Christ-child who has grown into our messiah – and to embrace him with all the affection we can muster - holding our God close in a loving embrace, as if it was our last.

There is one more lesson that Mary teaches us today. She teaches us that we are meant to use all our senses in our encounter with God's presence. These days are not just to be lived in our head. They are meant to be an encounter. That encounter with God's loving presence can and should be heard, touched, tasted, smelled...
It is a lesson we hear in the last verse of the great hymn for this week "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life my all. - Isaac Watts

We are meant to make use of all that we have – both within and without – in our affectionate encounter with God in our lives, and most especially meant to do so in these coming days.

So, I invite you into a practice of presence over these next three days - be present to God within you, be present to the God you encounter in the world. Be generous in lavishing affection upon Jesus wherever you find him - in your friends, in your co-workers, within yourself. Channel the affectionate intention of your ancient sister Mary. In doing so, we may find ourselves in this Holy Week truly transformed through the events to come rather than beaten down by them. 

That is God's ultimate desire for us - to be transformed beyond all our worldly expectations. That is why God bridged the ultimate gap by coming to us as Emmanuel - God with us

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