Sermon by Guest Preacher - Apr 14, 2017

The Rev. Craig Lemming is the program director of Circle of the Beloved, the Minnesota chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps. Four residents live on the North side of Minneapolis, in intentional community that acknowledges and deepens kinship across many lines of difference, while serving full time at AmeriCorps sites that work to close opportunity gaps in Minnesota.

On behalf of Circle of the Beloved’s Episcopal Service Corps members, I would like to thank Jered for inviting our intentional community to preach the homilies for the daily morning celebrations of Holy Eucharist during this Holy Week. It has been an honor to share our stories and our vision of “Kinship Across Lines of Difference” at St. John’s.

About three years ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a birthday gift of tickets to see an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts – “The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty”[1] – perhaps you saw it, too? Masterworks by Correggio, Giorgione, Rubens, Tintoretto, Titian, Velázquez and Caravaggio, including masterpieces that had never before traveled to the United States, drew large crowds to the museum. I am introvert and my energy is quickly sapped by crowds of chattering people. Visiting the bustling museum was difficult. As I struggled with the din, moving slowly through the exhibit’s swarming galleries, I had a remarkable encounter with the Divine. As I crossed a threshold into the gallery space at the center of the exhibit, a heavenly stillness and mysterious hush settled over everyone in that space. As I turned to my right, I saw the reason why all the chatter had ceased: Caravaggio’s massive and breathtaking masterpiece, The Crowning with Thorns[2] dominated the entire space. As my eyes drank in the rich colors, the deliciously sensuous brushstrokes, the beauty of the human form, and the astounding chiaroscuro; the agony of Christ patiently suffering the cruelty of his ugly tormentors became a palpable, visceral reality. The ineffable beauty and horrific tragedy of Christ’s Passion intersected in that numinous moment at the MIA and left me astonished, fascinated, and trembling in a state of silent worship.

so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.[3]

In this morning’s Old Testament lesson from the prophet Isaiah we heard those words. I certainly am no king, but I am sure that the tragic beauty of Caravaggio’s Christ crowned with thorns startled generations of emperors and rulers of the Habsburg Dynasty. I am sure that they, like everyone in that gallery space at the MIA, shut their mouths and contemplated the divine mystery of Christ’s Passion.

The tragic beauty of the Passion Narrative leaves an indelible imprint on our hearts and minds. It is through Christ’s Passion that we make meaning of our own trauma and suffering. It was in these very pews at St. John’s on a rainy Good Friday several years ago when the following excerpt from the Passion story drew me into a sacred place within which I could begin the process of grieving the loss of my best friend who had completed suicide in London earlier that day:

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were: his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.[4]

This most tender and compassionate moment of love, at the foot of the cross, left an indelible imprint in my heart and mind. And now, every Good Friday invites me to cherish the memory of my beloved friend. Jesus the Christ – God’s divine Word made fully human – is with us in those moments of excruciating agony. After he had united his mother and his beloved disciple in new kinship, Jesus knew that all was now finished.” Compassion, connection, love, and belonging – pronounced from the Cross – are the culmination of Christ’s purpose.

I now understand the words of T.S. Eliot and know why, in spite of the horrific tragedy of the Crucifixion, we still call this Friday “Good.”[5] Today’s Epistle to the Hebrews helps to explain this by referencing to the words proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah. God says, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”[6] God’s law is to love – to love each other radically. On this Good Friday let us allow the radical love of Christ at the heart of the Passion Narrative to be written indelibly in our hearts and written indelibly on our minds. As the tragic beauty of the Passion of Christ breaks into our hearts and minds, God’s radical love consumes us entirely and resurrects us to new life. That is precisely why we call this Friday Good.
Amen.

 

[1] https://new.artsmia.org/press/the-habsburgs-rarely-seen-masterpieces-from-europes-greatest-dynasty-2/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crowning_with_Thorns_(Caravaggio)#/media/File:Michelangelo_Merisi,_called_Caravaggio_-_The_Crowning_with_Thorns_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

[3] Isaiah 52:15.

[4] John 19:25-27.

[5] T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, the centenary ed. (San Diego, CA.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988), 30.

 [6] Hebrews 10:16.

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