St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Hopes and Fears of All the Years”
Collect: Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me." Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"
So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
"They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots."
And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
A phrase haunts me, it always has. It is tucked into a simple, innocuous poem we sing without thinking. I think that is why I fixate on it so.
O little town of BethlehemAnd that is what we are talking about. The hopes and fears. At the manger in the Inn we emphasize the former, at the cross on Golgotha we must emphasize the latter.
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight
So easily dismissed, but these are some of the things that make us unique, as special as our fingerprints. What is a burden for you, may be nothing to me. One time when I was on staff at St. Thomas’ in Richmond there was a woman about to sing a solo. She had moved up to sit next to me, and when she did one of those invasive camel crickets that plague Richmond basements hopped into view inside the modesty rail. She grabbed my arm like she had been stabbed. I looked at her, and looked at the cricket. Claiming the dominion given to us from God in Genesis 1, I stomped it flat. It was a cricket. I did not think about it again. But that afternoon she thanked me on Facebook for “saving her life” because a “spider the size of her hand” was attacking her. Now, obviously perspective is reality. And that is what she saw and how she felt. I cannot dismiss either. Our fears are our own.
Hopes are just as personal. What gives you hope is as unique to you as your fears. When I had been laid off by two churches who were cutting assistant priests, and then up in the final pool for many churches, my hopes were all I had to hold onto. I took every side job I could, but that sure and steadfast call of God was what enabled me to hold on for 13 months despite all the facts glaring in my face that maybe this priest thing was not for me. Last night when I got home, I caught the end of Cast Away with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt. After he arrived back alive after 4 years stranded on an island she could not face him. And when she finally does, she said, “I always knew you were alive, despite all the people who kept telling me I had to let you go.” Her hopes lived on, despite the evidence that contradicted those presumptions. And eventually, she let the evidence override her hopes and all those fears came crashing down.
The hopes and fears of all the years. Three years of ministry. Thousands touched and blessed by Jesus. He was GOOD! He was RIGHTEOUS! How could this happen??? Where is God? Why, Lord, Why?
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me…” We say it, but standing beside the grave we have to force the words.
The hopes and fears. It is what makes this day stand out. Tonight our Jewish brothers and sisters have Passover, the foundation of our Eucharist traditions. On that night, you are probably aware, the youngest in the room is always supposed to ask, “Why is this night unlike any other night?” The same could be said of us. What makes Good Friday different? Most days when we come together we celebrate the Eucharist, the good gifts of God. But on Good Friday we sit in darkness and consider the cost of our Redemption.
On Sunday I spoke about some of Jesus’ grief in weeping over Jerusalem. One of the griefs we have the hardest time processing is the grief for what might have been, our hopes shattered. It seems strange mourning for something that never was, but we do. And we often do not know what to do when our hopes are dashed and our fears are realized. This is the hidden grief of parents with miscarriages, and unrequited love of the lonely. The followers of Jesus who shouted Hosanna on Sunday were expecting, hoping for a new day, a new dawn “where Justice would roll down like water, righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
And not just the crowd, think of the one who knew him the longest and loved him the most. Did Mary think back to the Angel Gabriel's visitation at the foot of the Cross? Did she think back to her cousin Elizabeth proclaiming the greatness of God when she learned Mary was pregnant? Did she wonder how wrong she had been? Or did she think back to the prophecy of Simeon at Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, when he proclaimed: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”? [Luke 2:34-35]
Sitting here this night we think on the man who chose to die, all for Love’s Sake. The sorrow of the immediate was embraced for the eternal gain. He warned, he foretold, he prophesied. And then was silent, like a lamb to the slaughter.
The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in Thee tonight, too. On this night the tables were turned. The fears and tears outweigh the hope, which is struggling like a candle in the gusts of this night.
Tonight as we sit in the darkness, pondering the Cross of Christ, remember you are buried with him in your baptism. If you come forward to venerate pause at the font. For both symbols, cross and the water are death. The one thing we are all promised without compromise. But in that darkness, in those fears, do not let the glow of hope extinguish fully. It may be Friday, but Sunday's coming! Psalm 22 begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” We quote it so readily, as did Jesus on the Cross. But let us not forget how it ends:
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *We, YOU and ME, we are the people who were yet unborn who remember, the Lord saved his people. Amen
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him...
To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the Lord's for ever.
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.