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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Transition: Something Just Broke

The movement into Holy Week starts off strong and exciting - like any good religious festival. From Sunday's palm branch waving and animal joyriding to tomorrow night's dinner with friends, things seem to be going well for Jesus and the Disciples.

But today, Holy Wednesday is traditionally the day that Judas is said to have gone to the High Priests... "What will you give me if I betray him?" Thirty pieces of silver later, and our story takes a swift turn for the worse. Way beyond foreshadowing, the climax builds as things fall apart.

At the passover dinner, Jesus hints that one will deny him, another betray him, and a party guest leaves in a huff.

Bread is broken and eaten, wine is poured and drunk, but the symbolism isn't traditional, and the disciples wonder what these mixed up metaphors might mean.

After dinner, Jesus excuses himself up to the garden to pray, taking with him his three closest friends. He asks them to wait and keep watch, while he begs God: let there be another way.

But God says no, and when Jesus returns, more disappointment awaits him. He finds his comrades snoozing, the passover hangover already upon them.

Heading back down the hill, things go from bad to worse as the one who ran away comes running back with guards in tow, a kiss of death upon his lips.

Peter draws his sword and the fight escalates when he cuts off a slave's ear. But Jesus, usually the peacemaker, knows that violence must wait a day and it certainly won't come from an army of angry revolutionaries.

But as Jesus returns the ear to the poor servant's head, his friends begin to panic. Everyone takes flight now, one fleeing so fast that when a guard grabs his cloak the disciple wriggles free and runs naked all the way home.

Jesus, on the other hand, is restrained, imprisoned, and left to await trial and potential capital punishment.

And we move from Holy Wednesday to Maundy Thursday.

Sleepy stewards, double-crossing kisses, and then... something just broke.

I'm currently performing in a Stephen Sondheim musical about the men and women who attempted, some of them successfully, to take the lives of United States Presidents. Titled, Assassins, this strange musical weaves through the infamous lives of nine "assassins" in every number with the exception of one. During one song - the next to last number - all the leads leave the stage and the ensemble walks out one at a time to take their place on the empty, quiet stage. And I too, come out, a nondescript housewife and in the dim light I sing, "I was out in the yard, taking down the bedsheets when my neighbor yelled across, The president's been shot. I remember where I was just exactly where I was - in the yard out back. Folding sheets. And I thought... something just broke."

Where were you when it happened? When something just broke? For my mother, it was JFK's assassination and she was sitting in 6th period, Mrs. Tomlinson's class. For my grandma, having lived through WWI and WWII, it was hearing on the car radio while on vacation in Wyoming that the US was going to war again... with Korea. For some people now living in Austin it may have been on a rooftop or in a convention center during hurricane Katrina. When was the moment for you that everything stopped - or nothing stopped - and something just broke?

Something just left a little mark
Something just went a little dark
Something just went

This week people have been sharing about transitions in their lives... transitions often based in moments of brokenness... a son's suicide, a spouse's infertility, a cancer diagnosis - for the second time. Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9/11, Newtown - international tragedies or personal tragedies, with eyes wide open, we realize things will never be the same.

When was that moment for Jesus who, keep in mind, was fully human? The transition from Monday's Hosannas to Thursday's arrest was perhaps not as overt as a bomb dropped or a shot rung out or a tsunami crashed upon the shore, but he had to have felt it...

Was it the coins jingling in Judas' pocket when he ran from the seder? Was it the snore of his friends' slumber singing in the trees? Was it the bloody ear he had to pick up and put back on a face? Was it the pride (and clothing) his best friend shed as Jesus watched the bare bottomed man run down the road?

Or was it the kiss?

When did you learn that people have the capacity for great wickedness, that life is not fair, that sometimes when we sow there there is nothing to be reaped?

When did you discover that something just broke? And what did you do next?

Did you cry?
Or nervous laugh?
Did you blame God?
Blame yourself?
Blame the government?
Give up drinking?
Take to drinking?
Take out your anger on your kids?
Take out your desperation on your spouse?
Did you pray?
Go to church?
Read the Bible?
Read Rumi?
Read Harry Potter and cry?
Turn a blind eye?
Say yes to everything?
Retreat in silence?
Run away?
Stay to fight?
Throw yourself into your job?
A hobby?
Your kids?
Exercise?
Did you watch Fox News and buy all the canned goods at HEB?
Did you listen to the Willie Nelson and take up smoking?
Did you eat all the ice cream in your freezer?
Did you stop eating everything?
Did you shut down?
Pretend nothing was wrong?
Ask for help?
Research therapists?
Call a lawyer?
Email a minister?
Did you sleep?
Did you lie awake?
Did you enact revenge?
Did you practice compassion?

I don't mean to sound cliche, but Jesus went to the cross. That was his next move. He went to the cross, he went to the tomb, and he came out on the other side. He woke up the disciples and reattached the ear and eventually forgave Peter for not just the sword incident but the rooster one too. He lived. He died. And he lived again.

And so can we.

But not yet.

It's only Wednesday.

As a cast, we shared about our "something just broke" moments in rehearsal. And while most of them are in their twenties and cited 9/11, I spoke of when the Challenger exploded. We had been following it at school and it was the first time a teacher (and a woman) was going into space, and I can testify that every kid in America was excited as could be. Afterwards, I remember processing the event with my parents at dinner. I remember cutting out the article about the Challenger from the newspaper that was delivered the next morning. I put that clipping in a china cabinet and revisited it from time to time just to wonder at the fragility of it all.

But truth be told, this wasn't my first something just broke moment. I would talk to you today about transition, about dying to self and rising to walk in the newness of life. I would tell you the story of how something really just broke in my life, but it would take too long, and you'd get bored, and then I'd have to take a Xanax. And my stories are certainly not as exciting as speculating about Jesus'.

Plus, this is Holy Week... Holy Wednesday, and we must take note: the transition is already upon us. The palm branches have been burned, the seder plates are empty, and tomorrow is Maundy Thursday... Tomorrow starts the trial, tomorrow brings the verdict, tomorrow we drape cloth over everything in the church, and we head to the cross. The time of transition is already upon us. And Jesus will be crucified.

Bread and body... something just...

Rev. Ann Pittman
Holy Week Sermon, First Austin 
Wednesday, April 16, 2014