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"Learning our Stories" Palm Sunday - April 2, 2023

Updated: May 8, 2023

I grew up watching old movies. That’s what my family did. It’s pretty much all we watched as kids. Loved it…thankful for it…all the rest…but it didn’t make elementary school banter especially easy on me. Ya know??

All the guys on the playground would be talking about Robocop or Freddy Kreuger or Gremlins…and I’d be like “How ‘bout that Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace…that guy’s a riot, huh?? Talk about comedic timing…Is it just me fellas or does Lana Turner got it goin’ on in The Postman Always Rings Twice – I’d try to kill her husband too – ya know what I’m sayin.”

But I wouldn’t change a thing…I love old movies.

We used to watch certain movies leading up to Easter and around Easter. Classic religious films. Ben Hur, The Robe, King of today’s standards of course they’re kind of hokey and they have these weird moments. Like Edward G. Robison, who primarily played gangsters in Film Noirs, was one of Pharoah’s aids in the Ten Commandments and with that same kind of gangster-esque quality has this line that says… “Where’s your God now Moses??” Or in the Greatest Story Ever Told…John Wayne plays a Roman soldier and he says, “Truly this is the son of GAAAAD.” There’s a story that director George Stevens said, “Okay Mr. Wayne, lets do it again – but this time say it with awe.” They rolled film and John Wayne said, “Awwwww. Truly this is the son of GAAAD.”

Now if you’re my age or younger and you’re not laughing because you have NO CLUE what I’m talking about – that means I have adequately captured those awkward moments with my peers on the playground.

We watched all those films…but I remember it put me in this head space, the way Christmas movies trigger your readiness for Christmas Day – those movies triggered my readiness for Easter. I wouldn’t have been able to say this back then, but looking back now – what watching all those movies did…is help us enter the narrative….the story of Jesus’ final days.

Which was really helpful, because I didn’t have any other cues. Grocery stores just had advertisements with rabbits and eggs and discount hams. We’d go to church on Palm Sunday and sing our Hosannas and then the next thing you knew it was Easter Sunday, standing in front of a camera with your family, wearing an itchy suit with a clip-on bow tie, just waiting to slam down a few Cadbury Eggs (I can’t eat those things any more)….but this whole world happened between those two Sundays. So, when Ericka and I were new Episcopalians one of the things we were astounded by was Holy Week – that there were these other services throughout the week that you could participate in that marked significant moments in the story of Jesus.

And then to learn it’s not just Episcopalians doing this, but all kinds of Christians have been doing these services for over a thousand years…Huh???

What at first was the novelty of being introduced to this ancient Christian practice grew into something different….and it continues to grow…and I have a lot of growth ahead of me.

One of the things I’m learning is that there is something about being in this story of Holy Week that gives me courage to be in my own story. And even more…I’m learning – ever so slowly – that real healing, real transformation for a guy like me can only happen when I’m with a community that’s learning to tell its whole story. All of it.

Which makes me wonder if the only communities that can do their part in transforming the world around them are communities who can tell their whole story. Because, more times than not, we are a culture that shies away from the whole story. We like sound bites, and Tik Tok clips, YouTube shorts and Facebook Memes – we tend to want to drop our opinions and prerogatives in these tiny little jabs and sell them as our stories. Now, please don’t hear me saying use social media to tell your whole story – please don’t…I mean we can use them for all sorts of things, right…but the people who run those things don’t care about us. We’re just little dollar signs to the sweaty, crooked politicians that live inside their heads. We need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves with the blowhards of the world that try to convince us that we have no story but the story they force feed us.

But we do have stories.

Our stories…the whole of them. They’re hard to tell. It’s not easy. It’s tough.

Which is why we need safe places to practice that, places to enter into stories that are tough, and honest, and painful, and ambiguous, and ever going…and the more we can do that, than maybe the more we can do it in our own lives with the people we love and trust.

Holy Week is such a story…full of pain, and ambiguity, and being human, and dropping the ball, and giving up, and still being called in the midst of failing, and fragile discipleship, and misunderstanding and there’s always another part of the story yet to tell…and it’s in that small little space right there…we sense hope might be a part of the story too.

This morning, it’s already obvious I’m not offering you a sermon so much as an invitation. We’ve just crossed the threshold this Palm Sunday. So, this Holy Week, be here. We know life is complicated. We get it. Family, marriage, work, the list goes on and there’s so much that needs attention. Truly, we get it – and there will be no judgment passed whatsoever. But if you can…if there’s anything you can do to create the space…be here.

Come to one of our Evening Prayer services Monday through Wednesday. Come on Maundy Thursday, get your feet washed, watch the Altar become just an empty table; help us keep Vigil through that night by spending just one hour - a time of your choosing – in prayer; on Good Friday hear the Passion Narrative read and witness the cross be brought to the very center of our attention; if you’ve never been part of the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday – you’ll be taken back by how we take off the darkness and put on light.

And if you can’t do any of that…please take the bulletin home with you and slowly read the Passion Narrative in the center. Take your time with it. Maybe a little bit each day.

By the time Easter Sunday comes around, we’ll all be here together again.

Sure, there’s going to be a luncheon, an egg hunt, and plenty of kids running around in dresses, itchy suits, and clip-on ties…and I’m sure at some point you’ll find yourself standing in front of a camera. But you’ll do so as a storied people – because you showed up to be in the story that’s at the heart of all this, you helped those sitting beside you tell the story, learned to tell it a little better yourself, and…

somewhere along the way found the courage to be in your own story too.


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