Sunday, September 12, 2021
Lectionary 24, Year B
Prayer of the Day
O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 50:4-9a The servant is vindicated by God
James 3:1-12 Dangers of the unbridled tongue
Mark 8:27-38 Peter’s confession of faith
Title: Healer: The Messiah, Not Time
Last week it was South Pacific and a quote from Carefully Taught. A song whose lyric I sadly see lived out too much. At the risk of seeming to be in a Broadway show tunes rut, today the show of reference is Mack and Mabel. And the song is Time Heals Everything. However, to this one I say, no, it doesn’t. Twenty years have taught us, no, it doesn’t. Perhaps other griefs you carry have taught you, no, time does not heal everything. Friday on a bike ride, there was a section of the path where people, families, businesses, and community groups had the opportunity to sponsor benches. This gave them the privilege to have something inscribed on their bench. A good number were dedicated in memory of loved ones who had died. “Forever in our hearts” was a popular sentiment. But there was one bench that went deeper to express the pain of loss. To the two names and the “forever in our hearts”, was added: Grief is the hardest story to end. Now that I can agree with.
Good old Peter must agree as well, even with anticipated grief, for when Jesus begins to talk about the suffering and death that lies ahead for himself, Peter will have nothing to do with it. He demands that Jesus stop talking about this, this is not going to happen. And, of course, even in the midst of these events playing out, it is Peter who raises arms against those who will inflict this pain and suffering and that would give Peter yet another grief story that he thinks will be hard to end.
Some of you may have seen on facebook, that this bike ride that I took Friday was a bit extraordinary for me. It would be my first 100-mile ride. Accomplishing a 100-mile ride for a biker is like a runner completing a marathon. With the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks approaching, I decided I wanted to make my first 100-mile ride more significant than just a personal accomplishment. So, I planned it for Sept. 10th, a Friday, my usual day out of the office. Couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day off. From Poughkeepsie (taking the train up), I would ride along the Empire State trail that culminates right here in the bike path of the Hudson River Park, passes the memorial, and ends in Battery Park. It would be a ride of remembering and reflecting on this very significant weekend. Well, Isaiah (who is writing about having the tongue of a teacher, and speaking a word to the weary, I was weary) yes, the prophet must have had a hand in it because the ride also became a teacher, offering a lesson in the form of a parable.
After seeing that bench that told me grief is a hard story to finish, my ride became a symbol that taught the additional truism that grief is a journey that rarely goes as planned. I was well into my trip, having accomplished about 75 miles, was on a part of the trail that I had ridden before, on shorter excursions, when I hit a DO NOT ENTER sign. The trail was closed for construction. To make matters worse, this was a part of the trail that was sandwiched between the Saw Mill River and Taconic Parkways, so there was no chance to just hop off and hop on to an alternative route. I had to backtrack. (Bad enough when on a car trip. Really bad when on a bicycle.) As I rode back I noticed all the signs that I had failed to notice warning me that there was work being done ahead. (Some solace came seeing that I was not the only one ignoring the signs.) The alternative route (limited choices for someone on a bike) took me to a road that had way more hills than the nice flat path of the Empire State trail. But I had to keep going. I finally took a chance and cut back over to the trail, hoping I had gone far enough to be beyond the construction zone, I was, (Thank you, God) and it was back to the route as planned. But I was more weary than I had expected, would ultimately travel more miles than planned, and would get home later than I had hoped.
What I learned about grief on my ride.
It seldom goes according to any plan. Yes, the classic five steps are helpful, but each grief journey is unique, what Dr. Kubler-Ross offered were some signposts along the way to help give us language for what we are feeling.
There will be signs along the way with helpful information. Pay attention. We may not want to hear or see what the signs (or friends or relatives or God) have to say, might even cause hardship, but certainly could be helpful in the end.
Just as we think we are moving forward smoothly, we will hit roadblocks. Re-routing will be necessary.
The journey we may end up taking may not be (probably won’t be) what we planned or desired, but continuing onward as best we can is essential. Even going slow is still moving forward.
While Friday’s bike ride offered some appreciated reflection and guidance for this weekend, and for today as we employ our Healing Space, continuing to seek healing from the pain and the grief connected to this 20th anniversary; there is still more to be had from today’s gospel reading. Granted, by comparison, last week’s reading with two healing miracles performed by Jesus seemed to be the more appropriate passage for adding the healing rite to the liturgy, but for this most profound collective pain and prolonged grief, I think today’s reading just might offer a deeper connection.
Who do people say that I am? Jesus asks the disciples. The followers suggest that people are thinking that he is a recycled prophet – one who spoke truth to power that has come back to do more of the same. But then comes the second question: who do you say that I am? With all the references in Mark to Jesus telling his disciples to keep quiet about a number of things, one would assume that the disciples are having a very different experience of Jesus than the crowds. So, “who do you say that I am?” has the potential for a very different answer. And sure enough, Peter supplies it. You are the Messiah. That is the anointed one. The one we have been waiting for. The one come from God fulfilling an ancient promise. A daring confession indeed.
But as we see, Peter only understands part of what that means. And in his understanding, suffering is not part of it. How often are we are like Peter? Yes, Lord, you are the one, the answer. Just don’t make us face something that is going to cause us to question that, like dealing with pain, suffering, grief and loss. And yet, all healing begins with this confession, doesn’t it? Jesus, who we turn to in our suffering, you are the messiah, the one sent from God, the anointed one, the one who delivers, the one who saves. Without this confession of faith, without knowing this Jesus as the messiah, that he is our source of healing and resurrection, we are left to wander the byways of grief like a lost bicyclist seeking a way through but knows not how.
How much of our national experience over the past twenty years – the seeking revenge, the human rights violations, the divisiveness, the rise in hate crimes, our own threat to foundational ideals, and our militarization of religion – all that and more is coming out of a failure to be vulnerable and express the truth of our grief, to take the necessary healing journey? For Christians, our confession and our journey begin with saying to Jesus the Christ – “You are the Messiah.” You are the source of healing, you are the hope in the face of our grief, you are the way that leads us to wholeness, you are the life that knows no death and knows no end.
When Jesus told his disciples there was a rough road ahead, he included a sign of promise – he said he would rise again. Like me on Friday, Peter missed that sign. Too lost in his anticipated grief, perhaps. As we journey through our griefs, whatever the cause, we pray that the Holy Spirit will keep our hearts and spirits open and tuned to the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise – that there is new life even in the face of death, that there is hope even under the weight of grief, that there is peace even in the ruins of this world. Because God, in love, has acted. Jesus is the Messiah. And the Holy Spirit is present, in this place, and in our lives. And there is our healing that no amount of time can accomplish.
The Rev. Mark Erson,