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Five of Westminster's graduating seniors preached on Youth Sunday
It's hard for me to believe that 16 years ago, I was a Woodsey Owl in the 2 year old class of Westminster preschool. Now I have the honor of standing in front of you today and giving back to you just an ounce of what you all have given to me.
Psalm 23 says that the Lord is our Shepherd who will protect, guide, and care for us. These three actions of caring, protecting, and guiding stand out to me in when I think of my faith and my experience with the church.
I have a confession to make - Holy Week was difficult for me. Seeing you, being back in worship - that was all lovely. But actually living into Holy Week, into the story of Christ's Jerusalem entrance, to the Last Supper, to the Cross, to the stone being rolled away - felt harder than usual. When I left for maternity leave, we were finishing Epiphany, celebrating the incarnation of God in the form of sweet baby Jesus. And when I came back, he was a grown man riding a donkey into the town where he would be crucified. It jarred me and I had trouble figuring out why until I sat down with this week's scripture passage.
It is amazing how far away Easter feels. Just last Sunday we journeyed with Mary and Mary as they trudged to the tomb. In Matthew's version of the story an earthquake breaks in, an angels swoops down, rolls the massive stone back, and sits on it! Do not be afraid, she says. The women are invited to see the empty tomb, and are told to head back out of town, away from the big, important city, to Galilee. It is THERE they will see him. It was an amazing day, kind of ridiculously wonderful as far as I am concerned: the sanctuary packed to the hilt, the amazing choir and brass leading us, shoulder to shoulder, as we sang. The flowers were beautiful; the ushers did a great job packing people in. It was great. But, meanwhile, parents still wait to see if their teenager's body will be found off the coast of South Korea. Tensions heighten in Ukraine. We learned this week of a tragic massacre is south Sudan, ethnic cleansing, troops gathering outside a mosque in one village, killing hundreds.1 It's back to life after public school spring break, back to our routine craziness, back to the world. It is amazing how far away Easter feels. And the questions begin to creep in: What is next? What was all this for? What will we believe?
The day after Christmas, after the presents were unwrapped, we went back. My maternal grandfather had died 11 days prior, at 101 blessed years old, and we had headed to the mountains for a funeral. After the celebration of his life, scurrying back here to finish Advent, then up the mountain again Christmas Day, we went back to the veteran's cemetery, on a quiet hillside in Black Mountain. We stood, first, in silence. We checked the fresh dirt. We talked with our kids about how much Bop loved them, answered their questions about the mechanics - where is he, exactly? In a box? How far under the ground? It doesn't hurt him, does it? We surveyed the gravestones that told stories, some of decades of life and love, some of years cut short - one young man from the valley died in Afghanistan last spring, 20 years old. I imagine that some point in your life you have been there, on a similar hillside with people you love. The wind blows over tear-stained cheeks.
At first it was rather disappointing.
I am sure the disciples had some sense that things were moving toward a dramatic conclusion. All the miles they had walked, all the miracles had they witnessed - the way this Jesus connected with people, understood something about them, perhaps more deeply than they understood themselves. After the transfiguration up on the mountain, Jesus' teachings had become more difficult, as they moved towards the city. He confronted the religious authorities with their hypocrisy, told the crowds that unless you change and become like a little child you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Forgive not 7 times, but 7 times 70. He has stern words on divorce, on honoring those we are in relationships with. He blesses children and sends a rich man running when he says, "Go, sell your possessions, give the money to the poor...then come follow me." He had warned them that the son of man must suffer and die, 3 times in the last 3 chapters.