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Sermon for the Sacred Three Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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The Sacred Three Days: Triduum Homily 2016
Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma, Washington
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
Part I: MAUNDY THURSDAY March 24, 2016
Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17;
1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
 
 
Last Sunday, Palm Sunday,
we crossed over once again
          into Holy Week.
 
Holy Week.
 
The world around us
knows this time
as March 20th through March 26th, 2016.
 
For Christians, for us,
this is time
outside of ordinary calendar time,
 
as we commemorate events
that happened in another, long-ago time,
and through prayer and ritual action
invite those events
          to confront us,
          to question us,
          to change us . . .
 
in this difficult, challenging time
          in which we live.
 
In the week before Palm Sunday,
the House of Bishops, on retreat,
issued a letter to the Church –
 
expressing their concern
about the forces of violence darkly stirring
beneath this season’s political rhetoric,
forces that threaten the very integrity
          of our country’s identity,
                    our country’s true self.
 
In his sermon on Palm Sunday,
referring to that letter,
Father Torvend asked us this question:
 
What is your true self?
What is our true self
as a Christian community living in a country
          where these violent forces are being released?
 
We might add
living in a world
where violent forces not only have been released
          but operate in the world with seeming impunity:
 
The horror of the bombings in Brussels
          this Holy Week,
and the awful everydayness of
terrorist attacks in Burundi, Nigeria, Pakistan,
          the countries of the Middle East,
and who knows where, next . . .
 
A world not unlike that of Jesus,
where the brutal power and insatiable greed of empire
ruled with iron fist and implacable cruelty.
 
A world of poverty, unrest,
fear, cynicism, hopelessness.
 
 
“Does the story of our Savior’s passion
not give us hints and clues?”
Samuel asked:
 
Jesus’ refusal, when threatened with violence,
          to resort to violence;
Jesus’ calm silence
          in the face of insults, mockery and beatings;
Jesus’ forgiveness,
          even of those who crucified him.   
 
 
What is your true self?
What is our true self as a Christian community?
 
These are Holy Week’s questions of us:
questions we will live
          these next three days.
 
For tonight
we enter into the Triduum,
the three day
liturgical
contemplation of
and participation in
          that ancient story.
 
And how is it that we participate
in the story?
 
We have not been teleported
          to first century Palestine.
 
We are not actors
          in a Passion play.
 
We participate by
          entering into ritual action
and thus inviting
          the story to enter into us.
 
We make room in ourselves
          for the story.
 

As we commemorate
the events of Jesus’ last days
on this earth,
 
as we feed on his words and actions,
and his very life in the Sacrament of Communion,
 
as we enact the rites
peculiar to Holy Week,
 
we open ourselves
to the power and meaning
          of those long-ago events
made present in us and for us
          here and now,
          for the life of the world.
 
We Christians are developmentally challenged.
 
Our baptism is but the beginning
of growing up into Christ,
a lifelong process
of claiming our true selves
          and denying our true selves,
and claiming and denying,
and claiming again . . .
         
Every Sunday
in our familiar Sunday Eucharist
we remember and enact
and perhaps become a little more
          who God is making us to be.
 
But we must once a year
engage in the unique and challenging
          enactment of these Sacred Three Days,
by which
we are being shaped and formed,
patterned,
year by year,  
into our truest self:
 
our made-in-the-image-of-God self,
our kingdom of God self,
the self that has emerged
from the waters of baptism
          and has put on Christ,
the self that has died with Christ
          and now lives with him a risen life.
         
We move through these days
pointing toward Easter’s baptisms
and baptismal renewal,
 
but these entire Three Days are
a baptismal experience,
a dying,
again,
to false self
and a rising, again, to true self.
 
For God is at work
in these Three Days,
making all things new.
 
 
What might we discover in what we do  
this Maundy Thursday night:
the night of the mandatum,
the mandate,
the new commandment,
or perhaps, better, commandments?
 
Commandments not just spoken,
but enacted by Jesus
on the evening he knew
that his work on earth
was to be completed in agony
          beginning that very night:
 
His life about to be violently taken from him,
what did he do?
 
He gave it freely.
And before giving himself up
to the powers of this world
          and to the cross,
he gave himself to his disciples
he gave them to each other,
and he gave them to the world.
 
 
“If I, your Lord and teacher,
have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet –
for I have set you an example:
 
“Kneel before the inherent dignity
          of your neighbor, the stranger,
                   a friend, your enemy – 
take in your hands
          the feet of your neighbor,
          the stranger, a friend, your enemy . . .
(feet that have walked them
          through all the moments of their life . . . )
 
“Take that life in your hands,
your neighbor’s life,
          the stranger’s life, a friend’s life,
                   your enemy’s life,
          and serve.”
 
“I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.”
 
A love expressed in humble service,
a love expressed in the giving of a Life,
and the giving of life itself,
          on the very night of his betrayal:
 
“This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
 
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
. . . do this in remembrance of me.”
 
 
And so a meal is given,
a meal in which
his very life is given
          to anyone who would partake of
                   the bread of life
                   and the cup of salvation –
 
a meal spread out
on the table of the world
in every place and circumstance
          across the centuries,
 
for all to become
          what we receive,
the very life of God
          given for the world.
 
There is power in this eating and drinking together
against the growing darkness.
 
 
What does a world look like,
what does a home / a neighborhood / a city / a country /
look like
when we follow the example
Jesus gives us again tonight?
         
Turning oppressive social structures
                   upside down.
 
Participating in a holy reciprocity
                    as servants of one another.
 
Setting a table for all the world
                   to share.
 
Giving ourselves
                    as food for the world.
 
 
As we wash and are washed,
as we feed and are fed,
as we encounter tonight
the serving and self-offering Christ . . .
 
May we discover and become ever more
our serving and self-offering
true selves.
 
The Sacred Three Days: Triduum Homily 2016
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
Part II: GOOD FRIDAY March 25, 2016
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1 – 19:42
 
 
“You who have suffered for us,
have mercy upon us.”
 
Those were the final words
sung by the chorus
and cast upon our concrete walls
in letters of light . . .
ending the recent performance here
of Arvo Pärt’s Passio –
 
his austere, ethereal, haunting setting
of The Passion according to Saint John.
 
The performance
was accompanied
          by projection on these rugged walls,
(just the right surface
          for the purpose) . . .
 
Projection of
paintings of old masters
          depicting the moments
          of the harrowing story
                    we were hearing
                   (and have just heard again),
          Jesus accosted in the garden,
          Jesus before Caiaphas,
          Jesus questioned by Pontius Pilate,
          Jesus in crown of thorns and purple robe,
          Jesus crucified.
 
Old master paintings
interspersed with photographs
          telling the same story
                   in heart-breaking contemporary terms:
 
          a soldier in full battle gear tenderly carrying a small cloth bundle spotted with blood,
                   a wounded infant
                             (otherwise known as collateral damage);
          a night-time sortie of the Ku Klux Klan,
                   anonymous and ominous in their hoods,
                             clutching their burning,  smoking torches;
          a refugee camp in what might have been Greece . . .
          a man, back lacerated and bloody, tied to a whipping post;
                   a small crowd looking on,
                   perhaps in some Middle Eastern country,
          a woman sheltering in a cardboard box
          Mahatma Ghandi, who would be assassinated;
          faces of compromised politicians;
         
         

The whole effect
was to make startlingly, appallingly real
and desperately sad
the commonplace-ness
and persistence
of injustice and suffering
in this world.
 
The story of Jesus’ suffering,
experienced in that context,
also became terribly real:
          in his own passion,
          and in the continuing passion
                    of the world he loves
                             and came to save.
 
“You who have suffered for us,
have mercy upon us.”
 
I felt,
as those words were sung,
as I read them on the wall,
that I should myself pray those words
          and address them
                    not only to Jesus,
but to all the poor and powerless and suffering people
          whose plight I have ignored,
in whose suffering
I have been complicit,
          by my action and by my inaction.
                            
“You who have suffered for us,
because of us,
have mercy upon us.”
Tonight,
we are in the middle part
of the liturgy of the Triduum,
the Sacred Three Days:
 
a liturgy
in which
the power of the ancient story
          of Jesus’ passion
emerges in the present
to awaken us to
          who we truly are.
 
In a society and a world
in which fear, hatred, cynicism, despair
challenge Christian hope,
 
the question Holy Week asks of us
becomes ever more urgent:
 
What is your true self?
What is your true self as a Christian community,
          in such a society, such a world?
 
And we look today to Jesus,
betrayed 
and delivered into the hands
of the Roman occupiers of his country
by a small group of his own struggling people:
         
one of his disciples
and some,
certainly not all,
of the chief priests,
          Pharisees and scribes,
 
some who,
in the atmosphere of suspicion and fear
          created by their corrupt and brutal
                   Roman rulers,
had made peace with oppression,
          for their own gain,
          or out of fear for their safety,
          or from a desperate desire to appease.
 
Their collaboration with Rome
a sad betrayal of their true selves,
and their own people.
         
 
Brought before Pontius Pilate
by the powers
of cynicism and fear,
 
Jesus calmly stands
in the fullness
and absolute freedom
          of his true self
and
          of the kingdom he proclaimed,
          a holy community,
                    a holy communion,
                    marked by justice, equality and peace,
          won by self-giving
                    and sustained by love.
 
Not like the kingdoms
of this world,
          won by violence
                   and sustained by cruel oppression.
 
 
Throughout his life and ministry,
Jesus’ words and actions:
his teaching, healing, preaching,
          signs, deeds . . .
in every detail
were consonant with his true self.
 

He was the one
in whom the fullness of God –
the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell,
 
the one in whom the human potential
as vessel of God’s presence
was perfectly realized.
 
Yes, he was obedient . . .
obedient to who he was.
 
In the integrity of his true self,
he walked the only path possible for him,
a path inevitably leading to a cross.
 
He preached a different world
          which he called the kingdom of God
and a different way of living
          that would lead to that kingdom.
 
His ideas and his claims
challenged assumptions
and threatened the powers-that-be.
 
If he was to remain himself
          he could do no other.
 
“Do not fear those who kill the body
but cannot kill the soul,” 
he had said to his disciples.                           [Matthew 10:28a]
 
For what is worse than physical death . . .
          but continuing to live
                   after the death of the self?
 
Jesus confronted
the cruelty, the injustice, the brutality of empire,
fully aware of the consequences,
trusting completely in God,
holding firmly to hope.
 
Betrayed,
he refused to betray himself.
 
And Pilate had no true power
over him.
 
 
Do we see hints and clues
          to our true selves
in his obedience,
his integrity,
his courage,
his holding to hope?
 
Tonight we face into 
the fear, hatred, cynicism, despair
that are corrupting and threatening to destroy
our world . . .
 
we acknowledge our own culpability,
 
and we reclaim
the integrity
of our true selves.
 
We do not raise our hands
in surrender.
 
We raise them
          in prayer,
because through prayer
we learn obedience,
grow in courage,
hold fast,
          when all seems to be slipping away,
to the confession of our faith.
 

What is our true self?
What is our true self as a Christian community?
 
Washers of feet, we are,
          servants in the world.
sharers in the body and blood of Christ, we are,
          food for the world,
 
People who come to the cross of Jesus
and know,
 
whatever the desolation,
whatever the losses,
whatever the destruction,
 
whatever the emptiness,
 
this is the wellspring
of new life and joy.
 
And in word and prayer and action,
we present ourselves –
our true selves –
to God as a living sacrifice.
 
 
“You who have suffered for us,
have mercy upon us.  Amen.”
 
The Sacred Three Days: Triduum Homily 2016
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
Part III: THE GREAT VIGIL OF EASTER March 26, 2016
Vigil Readings:
The Story of Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:2); The Flood (Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13); Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21); Salvation Offered Freely to All (Isaiah 55:1-11); A New Heart and a New Spirit (Ezekiel 36:24-28).
Romans 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12
 
The grieving women went to the tomb
at early dawn
with their pots and jars of spices
 
to anoint the dead body
of their teacher and friend.
 
An act of devotion,
the very last service
they could do for him.
 
An act of devotion
and of letting go.
 
But he was already gone!
 
Perplexed by this shocking discovery,
Terrified at the apparition of
          two men in dazzling clothes . . .
 
          (the “dazzling” a clue . . .
          these were angelic presences . . .)
 
Thrilled by their proclamation,
“He is not here, but has risen,”
 
the women hurried to tell the others . . .
 
Good luck with that.
 
The apostles took it for an idle tale,
wishful thinking,
a fantasy of overwrought women.
 
Who in their right minds,
they said to each other,
could believe such a thing?
 
 
That’s the trouble with right minds . . .
 
there’s no room for
          the probability of the improbable
                   when God is at work.
                            
 
But here we are,
2000 years later,
out of our right minds,

with Christians around the world
telling that idle tale,
proclaiming its power
          for our lives,
 
for Christ is risen,
and with him we arise,
 
And God is making the whole creation new.
 
The resurrection of Jesus
happened once in history,
but is renewed and lives tonight
          in Christians everywhere 
filling us with resurrection joy.
 
Why wait until we die
          to live resurrection?
 
New and risen life is ours right now!
         
 
The God
who raised Jesus from the dead,
washes away sin,
illumines hearts and minds,
calls us out of darkness
          into light,
is at work tonight,
making all things new!
A favorite comic strip of mine
is Mutts,
by Patrick McDonnell.                                        
 
It chronicles the
adventures of the irrepressible Mooch,
          a zany little black cat,  
and his friend Earl,
          a sensible little spotted dog
                    who is never quite sure
                    what wacky thing
                   Mooch will do or say next.
 
In what is an annual springtime ritual,
Mooch undergoes a week of ferocious shedding,
          to the dismay of his mistress Millie,
          who follows him around
                   with a vacuum cleaner.
 
Earlier this week
Mooch announced:
“This whole shedding thing
is out of control.
Look at me!
I’m covered in cat fur!”
          (He is the cat!)
Today,
in the first panel of the strip,
Mooch says to Earl:
“Forget your fur, Earl.
What do you really want to shed?”
 
Second panel:
The little dog replies: “Well . . . uh . . .
all my fears, doubts, worries,
bad habits, negative thoughts, insecurities . . .”
 
Third panel:
Mooch: “WOW!”
“Who’s going to clean up that mess?”
 
Who, indeed?
 
 
The liturgy of the Three Days,
          Maundy Thursday,
          Good Friday,
          and tonight’s Great Vigil of Easter . . .
 
the liturgy of the Three Days,
is the culmination
of our annual Lenten shedding ritual . . .
 
We have dared to confront and confess
our mess:
our fears, doubts, worries,
bad habits, negative thoughts, insecurities . . .
 
looking to tonight’s renewal of our true selves,
our baptismal selves,
the selves made in God’s image,
and patterned after the mind and heart of Christ.
 
In this three day liturgy
we have seen revealed
the humility of Jesus,
the love of Jesus,
the self-offering of Jesus,
the courage of Jesus,
the steadfast hope of Jesus,
the compassion of Jesus,
the forgiveness of Jesus,
the healing power of Jesus.
 
We have seen the true face of God in Jesus . . .
 
We have seen
who we are to become.
 
 
Tonight we have lit a new fire
and seen the light of the rising Christ
push back the darkness.
 
Tonight we have, in that light,
told the ancient stories of our ancestors in faith,
their experience of God’s saving action
among them.
 
Tonight we have proclaimed
that astonishing idle tale
on which our lives depend
and we are experiencing God’s saving action
among us.
 
And tonight,
we will enact that tale
as we take Elizabeth and Lee to the waters of baptism –
 
They have been preparing for this
all of Lent,
well, all their lives actually . . .
although they may not
have known it . . .
 
and we’ve been praying for them
all of Lent . . .
 
and tonight
we will see them rise dripping from those waters
and anointed with fragrant oil
 
united with Christ and with us,
shining with resurrection.
 
 

And tonight we will all partake
of the banquet that has been prepared for us
from the foundation of the world . . .
 
the bread and the wine,
the Body and the Blood,
the very resurrection life of Christ.
 
 
This IS the night
when Christ breaks the bonds of death and hell
and imbues his people with new life.
 
And we are once again our true and risen selves.
 
Alleluia people from head to toe!