Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Sixth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, April 1, 2012
My tūtū or grandpa died at our home in Keauhou, Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi. Although I was still a freshmen at a boarding school on the island of Oʻahu, I was at home when he died.
Other family members had gathered at the house aware that his death was imminent. Several adults were by his side as his breathing grew shallower and shallower and then he was gone.
I have a photograph at home of tūtū around the dinner table at Christmas time dressed in his pajamas. He had a thing about pajamas and whether or not it is true, I have always pictured him in his pajamas in the final moments of his life here on earth.
“Tūtū make,” someone said as if to verify what we all knew. “He is gone.”
In the moments that followed the children were excused from the room and the women began preparations to bathe him. It was an act of their aloha.
Once they were pau, done, we were allowed back into his bedroom. As I sat there I realized everything had been gradually stripped away from tūtū – he could no longer walk; he stopped eating; he no longer spoke and for a moment even his pajamas had been stripped away.
Robert Lischer teaches preaching at Duke Divinity School at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He said, “Each Maundy Thursday, the members of our church’s altar guild carefully and lovingly remove the candelabra, cross, vessels, fine linens and paraments from the altar. They strip the altar to bare stone. When everything is removed, what is left is nude and vulnerable, not as imposing as one might expect. It seems almost a shame to see the altar that way, and so when the women are finished undressing it someone turns out the lights and the congregation files out in silence.” (“Holy Week and the art of losing: Stripped bare,” Christian Century, March 21, 2012, page 11)
We will also strip our altar for our Maundy Thursday service this week. Like Lischer, we will have an opportunity think about Jesus and ourselves and the ways in which our very lives have been stripped away.
We celebrate the palm parade of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
We are aware that there is a sense of profound loss and vulnerability
for Jesus as he looks beyond Jerusalem to the cross. When he turned to
the members of his own household, they greeted him as a stranger. When
he went to the members of his own synagogue, they treated him as an alien.
When he came to the leaders of his own religion, they dismissed him as a blasphemer. When he came to inner circle of his own disciples, they forsook him as weak. When he stood before the governor, he was offered as a scapegoat. At every turn Jesus found himself confronted with unimaginable losses.
There are “people who are being reduced in a hundred different ways,” Lischer writes, “by illness, death, grief, betrayal, depression . . . Holy Week teaches us all a lesson in losing. We are not losers, but we have been reduced . . . ”
In the process he adds, “We discover that even when everything is taken away, something remains.” (Op. cit.) What our lessons from the Bible offer us this week is not a way out from the losses we experience but a way of recognizing that we are not alone.
When we look to the cross we recognize that Jesus does suffer humiliation and defeat but he never relinquishes his identity as the Son of God. His cry at the end of his life is addressed to God.
His divinity is confirmed not by coming down from the
cross but by his gestures of love
while on the cross. He provides for his mother. He forgives his tormentors. From the cross he draws others to himself. (Ibid., page 12)
The challenge we face in all our own losses is our ability to think and act beyond ourselves. Some are able to break through their anguish and in the midst of their own loss, find someone else to help or to love.
A young man died ten years ago. His parents still mourn his death and after a few months finally determined that it was time to let go of the grief and anger and move on. Both have become involved in their home church helping with the children’s programs.
There are other stories to tell. “A boy dies of a drug overdose, and his parents take a new and active role in drug education for teens. A woman survives breast cancer, but instead of nesting with her own anxiety, reaches out to other women with the same disease. The bereaved understand and comfort the bereaved.” (Op. cit.)
We come today to share in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup. As we do we give thanks and we add our voices to many in proclaiming, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God! Hosanna in the highest.” Amen.