Mother Katherine’s sermon preached Feb. 28, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Feb 28, 2021 in Lent, Sermons

The Second Sunday in Lent

February 28, 2021

We’ve marveled at how less pollution means seeing a spectacular mountain that a whole generation nearby has only heard of. We are breathless at the clarity of the night sky, brighter for less pollution and a less ambient city light around us as we look up. Simply the joy of going outside takes on new importance and the antics of our pets are seen with new eyes. “Layers removed.” This is what is pointed out by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his latest book, Candles in the Dark, Faith, hope and love in a time of pandemic (SPCK, London,  2021). Layers removed is “another image for what Lent and Passiontide are about. We try to let some kind of sharp cleansing wind blow through the fog of idleness and selfishness, so the the landscape of our spirits stands our more clearly… But it’s only when the vague, drifting muddle of the way we usually think about ourselves is blown away by the Spirit that we see the underlying contours — the deep needs, the ingrained resistances, the aching hopes and loves.”

This is where Peter and Jesus are in the gospel reading from Mark today. Jesus is trying to lift the clouds illusion and layers of expected earthly glory, and Peter would rather remain in the fog, enjoying the fantasy of a victorious savior and being right there with him. He’s the one who first said Jesus was the Messiah, so he body steps up and berates Jesus for saying his future holds suffering, rejection, death. It breaks something in Peter to hear this is how the great one he follows will end — but Peter stopped listening before Jesus got to the last, that  he will “after three days rise again.” Jesus calls Peter out for only focusing on human things and not the divine. What ignited a flashpoint is vital to both of them and Jesus’ reaction is a fiery one. I can’t help but wonder if Peter’s reaction itself has lifted a layer from Jesus’ sight; if even the enthusiastic Peter thinks this way, Jesus needs to explain and make sure no one else is pulling the blankets over their heads about what it means to follow him. 

The Spirit blows away layers in Lent and we try to open our eyes to what we do and thought we knew, reexamining by this new uncovering. Some of what we see can be painful or bleak, difficult to agree to see even, much as Peter didn’t want to know what Jesus was saying. We’ve each had Peter moments when we realized difficult or surprising things this past year, and it’s a strange oxymoron that being driven to self-isolation and feeling hidden behind masks—looking inward—has been something we’ve all experienced ‘together’ in a sense. 

Is this what it was like to stand among the disciples or in the crowd that day? What did he just say?! Suffering, being killed? Rising again? Am I the only who heard it that way — I’m confused… Then looking around you see the eyes of others, above the mask, looking just as perplexed about things as you are. Is this individual or collective? Yes. How impossible it must have sounded to their un-Eastered ears! We have the luxury of faith born after the Resurrection, what we lack is the great faith born of trust before it. Lent is a time to be intentional about focusing on deep faith in our lives, how does it feel when we are in the ashes of despair? Can we life as if the veil between earthly death and eternal life had not been ripped open for us? 

Last April I visited someone at a senior care facility who was dying. I arriving masked of course. For the first time (of many) I was stopped at the door, my temperature checked, then gloved, gowned and a second mask added. I told myself that any God who could raise the dead could certainly transmit love and prayers and anointing through all those layers! This morning we confess sins and receive absolution online, we celebrate our Lord’s Communion, and receive God’s blessing – all through layers of technology; small screens, wifi, cameras, at a frustrating but safer distance, and we thank God that we can. This has happened to all of us, though it has been a greater burden to carry for some than for others. Even so we walk with the one Isaiah calls Immanuel; God with us, and it reveals a deeper grace about Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. As Williams says, “We can see the sky. A curtain has been torn down, not just the veil over our own faces, but the veil that covers the face of God in our imaginations…”

We help weave that veil ourselves in some ways, projecting onto God our unexamined desires, what is convenient or seeking only a superficial happiness, and absent-mindedly blaming both God and ourselves for not being a better version of ourselves, or projecting onto God the role of punisher, while ignoring the lavish mercy, love, and forgiveness. To feel the “sharp cleansing wind” of the Spirt blow through, there are layers to lift off, like blankets to fold away as we enter spring. Our sight no longer impeded, as followers of Christ we are called not to look away! (Things don’t go away because we don’t look).

In our Lenten days Jesus leads us deeper into faith, sharing a palm procession into Jerusalem, Passion and Holy Week. Walking with him to the crucifixion means carrying our cross too, and yet knowing that stars are brighter for the clear night sky. We walk together trusting his promise that we will see him in the brilliance of resurrection dawn, and finding we can only truly follow him with eyes willingly wide open.

Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.


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