April 9, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
“If I only knew then what I know now.” How many times have we heard, thought or said this ourselves?
Many years ago I worked in another career field. At one point I was working with a young man who was about a decade younger than me. He was newly married and just beginning a family. His wife was a nurse and very much in the expectant way. As she continued to work and support their young family, my friend spent every last cent of his earnings on something called VHS tapes. Thinking that he was not being responsible, I asked what he planned to do with a garage full of these movies on tape. He answered, “I’ll rent them out.” I had never heard of such a foolish thing. I suggested that these tapes were a flash in the pan and his little family was not. My friend thanked me for my concern and assured me it would all turn out for the best. Several decades later, as he continues to run the chain of stores he founded – it certainly has. If only I had known then what I know now!
This week I have been asking myself what our lives would be like if we had known back then what we know now? Would we be the same persons we are today if we had avoided all our mistakes and trials? Would the person typing this letter to you be so different that I would be unrecognizable even to myself? Or, would any of you exist in the sense of being the person you are today? Maybe we are the sum total of the good and unfortunate decisions that led us to this moment in time. If we accepted this as the truth, would we change anything? There is an uncomfortable mystery here. In a way, by exercising our free will we have become co-creators of ourselves and each other. The mystery goes even deeper. Even in the brokenness of our own being, someone loves us anyway.
Some have looked at the world of their time and decided not to bring any child into such a world. They make this decision because they want to spare a future child the pain and adversities of our common lot as humans. Now imagine a parent that loved their human family fully, those born and yet to be born. What would that parent do if he or she believed that sending their special child into the world would make all the difference for all His children; especially for the broken ones? Now add to the mix that this parent does “know then all of what would be known later.” The story of the last seven mortal days of this child and this parent are told this coming week.
Sunday, April 9th is the last Sunday of Lent. It is also Palm Sunday and the first Sunday of Holy Week. During the following week the Christian community is invited to walk once again the last few days of the earthly life of the Heavenly Father’s especially beloved son, Jesus of Nazareth. The week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. The story quickly turns to betrayal, crucifixion, and Jesus’ death. The balance of the week is given over to a focused retelling of these events. Ultimately, next Saturday – Holy Saturday, we find ourselves in the upper room with Jesus’ disciples. I have the feeling many of them were quietly thinking something like, “If only I knew then what I know now.” I am certain that while Jesus lay in His tomb, His friends wished they could turn the clock back, avoid certain situations, and do it all very differently with a completely different outcome. But they could not; thank heaven. As it turns out, that little community of disciples was forged by those events and were never the same. Like the first disciples, our being has also been shaped by those same events.
The church’s prayer for Palm Sunday begins “Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature…” Tender love! That is a love worth reflecting on. It is a love that is compassionate, empathetic, and both fatherly and motherly at the same time. This is a love that does not stand at a distance. It is a love that gets deeply involved and is costly beyond limit to the one so in love. The events remembered during Holy Week must have devastated the heart of God, and took His beloved son Jesus’ mortal life. But God and Jesus chose to go through with the events of this week with eyes wide open. They knew it would make all the difference for us. They love us, that much.
Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 219)