Midweek Faith Lift
April 13, 2022
Palm Sunday-The Worst of Times
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
March 29, 2022
“There's a certain amount of suffering you have to be willing to sustain if you want to have a good life. If something hurts, lean into it until it loses its power over you. The trick is to be able to sustain it with your heart open and still be loving." – Will Smith, Esquire Magazine, 2015 interview
“We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their actions.”
– Stephen Covey
Affirmative prayer: Today, I judge not. I see others by their sacred heart and pure intentions. I pray that the goodness in every person is remembered. I pray for the place in us all that wishes to lash out. Where there is conflict, may understanding and harmony show itself. Where there is anger, may there be healing and forgiveness. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
By now, everyone all around the globe has watched the slap heard round the world, right? Even being on vacation did not keep me from hearing about it, seeing the replays of it and so on. I might have been on vacation, but in truth, in reality, my connections at home, to you all and to this sacred place were a present and compelling reality. During my week away, the steeple blew off the top of the church and one of my dearest friends, one of our dearest members, Jerry Rogers, made his transition. I was on the phone a lot, as you might imagine. I had a lovely time away, but it did not exactly feel like time off. I did not have to write a talk for two Sundays, and a BIG THANKS to both Todd and Clark for doing a great job in my absence. For next Sunday, Easter Sunday, just refer to Clark’s talk, ok?
This is Palm Sunday and the traditional focus is on the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with his disciples, one of the holiest seasons for the Jewish people. In reality, if we take a step back away from the traditional “story” about the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it was the start of the worst week of his life. It may have started out with a bang and a lot of hosannas, but that certainly faded quickly. His throngs of followers did not have the courage to support him, to advocate for his release and to claim him as their leader. What a shift! How quickly the mob turns on you when you don’t do what they want or expect, right?
The truth about Jesus is that he was not a con artist promising something that was not real. Jesus never promised an escape from suffering if you were his follower. Instead, he was the real deal, telling the truth about his true nature as both human and divine and he did not try to hide either one. He tried to get our attention and to wake us up to our true human/divine nature but that was a huge lift and we kind of missed the whole message as Christianity unfolded. The whole story that Jesus died for our sins was a spin on the story of what Jesus was really demonstrating, and we bought the myth because that is easier than looking at ourselves.
What gets all the hype during Holy Week is that Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” as he was dying on the cross. That is the best of Jesus, that message of forgiveness and his keen awareness of the absolute necessity of forgiveness if we are to learn to live lovingly with each other at all. During the last week of his life, his closest friends and followers betray him. When he is in the Garden, in clear emotional agony, he asks his disciples to stay awake and watch and pray with him and they fall asleep. When he sees that, he laments, “Could you not watch just one hour with me?” We can hear his human sorrow and sense of abandonment. Later, when, he is arrested, they all disappear, afraid to even say that they know him, denying him, particularly Peter, who Jesus described as a “rock.” He crumbled pretty easily when the going was tough!
When Jesus is in the Garden he says, “Father, please take this cup from me,” clearly stating that he did not want to do this, to go through this crucifixion. He then says “Not my will, but thy will be done.” This has been so misinterpreted to mean that a loving God would want the murder of his beloved son to save the rest of us. The message has been that we are all so bad, so sinful, so evil that this is the only way we can be redeemed. That is just not the case. If God is all good, all loving and then God would never will us to suffer or Jesus to suffer. What this passage so clearly illumines is that God does not intervene in our lives directly to rescue us from the energy of our human will when it runs amok, becomes hateful and out of control causing horrible suffering.
Collectively and individually, humans, in their willfulness are capable of doing hideous things to one another. That was true in the time of Jesus and it is just as true today. Jesus is a victim of that kind of human violence. It is the kind of government violence the Romans routinely perpetrated in order to subdue the mobs, especially when large crowds came into Jerusalem such as they did during Passover. What Jesus demonstrated for us is the redemptive power of unearned suffering. His suffering is powerful because it shows us that we are not alone in our unearned suffering.
The story of Jesus opens up the greater reality for us to see. Not that there is a place called heaven, but a place in consciousness beyond suffering. A place where we can come to rest and know the power of forgiveness, of loving one another rather than hurting and killing each other. A place where we can work together to stop the suffering! When we are suffering, there is a better choice than inflicting more suffering. That was his ultimate message, “Love one another as I have loved you. Love your enemies, because when you see your enemy, your see yourself.
We, collectively, have been through a lot of suffering in the past two years and for some the suffering that COVID brought has been redemptive, it has opened hearts to connect and support one another. It has caused us to see that we are truly connected, that we are global village. We are all in this together, even though there have been many who have refused to see the redemptive nature of this suffering and who have refused to accept the reality of it, the power of the pandemic. What a missed opportunity that is, to refuse to see and bear the suffering of one another! We see that we have strong resistance and we, like the disciples want to fall asleep and escape and wake up when it is over. I certainly have felt that way.
Richard Rohr, in his blog from April 4, 2022 speaks of salvation and suffering. He refers to St. Francis and St. Clare who were able to lean into suffering. He says:
They fully rode the resistance to which the rest of us surrender. Our lives can take this same ride—whenever we try to hold any negativity or self-doubt with integrity, and when we “suffer” the full truth of any situation instead of just taking what we think is the one righteous side. Integrity is often a willingness to hold the hard side of things instead of reacting against them, denying them, or projecting our anxiety elsewhere. Frankly, it is just another name for faith. Without the inner discipline of faith, most lives end in negativity, blaming, or deep cynicism—without even knowing it.
The invitation of Jesus is to lean into undeserved suffering and allow it to redeem us, to open our hearts. We won’t do that perfectly or even consistently, but each time we do, it brings more love, compassion and kindness into the world, which is how we live into the truth of the Jesus message. That is the message of Will Smith, both in what he said and what he did. His most human impulse was to slap Chris Rock for adding to his wife’s suffering about her hair in such a public and humiliating way. Later, he was in tears and apologized because he immediately realized that adding to the suffering was not the path he wanted to take. If he had said something heartfelt about the mean-spirited joke by Chris Rock, how powerful that would have been and what a moment of transformation.
But Will Smith did not do that in this moment of great challenge. To which I say, please, please, everyone, don’t judge us by our worst moments, our very public human moments because we are all capable of giving that same slap. And, if not directly, then we have certainly slapped someone in our mind’s imagination for sure! Honesty and integrity demands that we also admit the truth of our worst moments and allow for their redemptive energy to work in us.
As Fr. Richard Rohr said in his April 3, 2022 blog:
Similarly, we are all complicit. We’re all cooperative in the stupidity and evil of human history. No one can stand up and say, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” As Paul says so clearly: “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23), so we all bear the burden of sin. It’s a waste of God’s time—and our own—to try to prove who is more worthy, more holy, more blameless. Stop trying to be better than someone else! Just forget it! All that does is make us egocentric.
As you contemplate the events of Holy Week, may you feel the loving energy of forgiveness for yourself and for all who have contributed to human suffering. May you feel the transforming power of love that undeserved suffering, your own, and that of others brings.
Blessings on the Path,