Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Lessons:

Isaiah 53:4-12

Psalm 91:9-16

Hebrews 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-45

Here we are.

Here we are, together. Just like we planned.

We last worshipped in this space, together, what was it? Two weeks ago, three weeks
ago? And now everything is back to normal.

Right?

Well, that was how it was supposed to go. I remember us saying to one another, We’ll
be back by Easter.
(This was Easter of 2020, by the way, not Easter of 2021.) And then
We’ll be back by Pentecost. And then We’ll be back by next year.

Somewhere in that time that video got circulated by everyone in the Episcopal church.
Did it make it to you? It is an Episcopal priest, fully vested up, and singing new lyrics to
King George’s song from Hamilton the musical. In this new version, our priest sang:

You’ll be back,

Wait and see,

Just remember how it used to be.

And it ends with him removing the ropes that were used to enforce physical distancing
between the pews and in his church and throwing the front door open.

You’ll be back

Like before.

Triumph.

This was the promise. It was the promise made by no less than the President: Normal
by the Fourth of July.
And it was the promise that a lot of us made to ourselves. It’s all
going to get back to normal.
Pandemic started like a curtain coming down on to end an
opera. And it seemed fair that pandemic would end with that same curtain being
cranked back up, fast.

We’d all come out and take bows.

But instead, we’ve got a curtain that’s gone up partway and then sort of gotten stuck.
It’s bobbing there, maybe a third of a way off the stage.

And that feels like a rip off. And an exhausting rip off at that. If there is a theme in the
conversations that I have with folks these days it is that everyone, everyone is just so
tired. And that makes sense. Our adrenal glands are not built to endure a crisis that
goes on for nineteen months and counting. If your house catches on fire, one of two
things happen: the fire department comes and puts it out; or your house burns down.
There is no scenario in which your house is still on fire nineteen months later.

And yet ours just keeps on burning.

And so, here we are, back. Not at all like it was before. We’re tired and there are bits of
tape telling you which pew you can sit in and some of us have discerned that it is best
to worship here in the building and some of us have discerned that it is best to
continue to worship online and months ago we gave announcing when all of this would
be over.

This is a day of happiness. We are back in a space that we love. But it is a complicated
happiness. A happiness with an asterisk after it, like the baseball player who hit all
those home runs after his shoe size, enigmatically, grew a size and a half at age thirty-eight.

Scripture talks with sometimes startling candour about suffering – see today’s reading
from Isaiah. And Jesus in particular talks about suffering – his own suffering and our
suffering – with startling candour. He says that he will be, must be, crucified. He talks
about it so often that his best friend, Peter, rebukes him. And can you blame Peter? If
my best friend regularly talked about how they were destined to be brutally murdered
by a death squad, I’d tell them to stop it too.

And today Jesus talks about the suffering that John and James, the sons of Zebedee, will
endure. John and James are trying to get this position of status with Jesus, they are
trying to cement their position in the Kingdom’s corporate ladder. But they are doing
so with such earnestness that it’s hard to hate them as they do so.

And Jesus says to them that they are going to drink from the cup that he is going to
drink from. This is the very cup that, in Gethsemane, he pleads with the Father that it
might be taken from him. In other words, Jesus is saying the same thing to John and
James as when he tells the disciples and you and me that, if they are to follow him, we
must take up our cross.

Jesus doesn’t warn us that following him might involve suffering. He guarantees it.

But. But this guarantee about his own suffering – about his disciples’ suffering – never
stops Jesus from living his life or his disciples from living their lives.

Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding, a celebration, a party. The story that we call the
Feeding of the 5000 – this story of radical, celebratory abundance – is one of the few
stories told in all four Gospels. (In two of the Gospels it is told twice!) And in one of my
favourite lines anywhere in the Gospels, Jesus says of himself:

The Son of Man comes eating and drinking.

Jesus delights in food and wine. Jesus delights in parties. And he does these things even
as he names that he does and that he will suffer.

Amy Starr Thomas and I were talking earlier this week. And we spoke of the tendency,
the temptation, to wait until pandemic is over so that we can really start living our
lives. But, of course, there is always some new reason to defer the start of your life. My
real life is going to start when I finish school or when I move out or when my kids move
or when I get my dream job or when I find the person who will finally love me.

The real start of your life is infinitely deferrable.

And maybe that is the lesson for us right now. Jesus says, yes there is suffering. Yes,
there will be more suffering. Yes, the curtain somehow got caught a third of the way up.
But you know what? A curtain a third of the way up is still high enough to put on a play.
We can still live, we can still love, we can still serve the Lord, at full speed.

We are back. And it is not like it was before.

As Tennyson wrote, all those years ago:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are

Here we are. In spite of everything, there is joy, there is thanksgiving. In spite of
everything the Deacon will invite us:

Let us go forth to love and serve the Lord. Alleluia, Alleluia.

And we will reply:


Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia.

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