Earlier this morning, a child was baptized. I do not know all the details of his baptism. But let me tell you what I do know. Little Lev was born on March 10. Little Lev was baptized this morning, on the one-month anniversary of his birth. Little Lev’s baptism took place at Saints Peter & Paul Garrison, Catholic Church in Lviv, Ukraine. Little Lev is our brother in CHRIST, as are the proud members of his family who paused as they were leaving the Church, just long enough to speak to a Canadian reporter, who up to this point had been interviewing Father Stephan Sus about his work in Lviv. In the midst of the chaos, which is Ukraine, Father Stephan spoke about life. Five funerals yesterday, a wedding and a baptism this morning. Father Stephan is from Kiev, where he hopes to return soon.
But for now, he is busy, tending to the needs of our sisters and brothers in CHRIST. Father Stephan spoke about the ways in which life continues even in the face of what he described as “the evil of our enemies” who “want to destroy the people” who “want to destroy the peace of Ukraine.”
Father Stephan described his work helping to “receive migrants to Lviv” having coffee with mourners, tending the cemetery, providing meals for those in need, comfort to the wounded. Father Stephan spoke about continuing with what he called, “existing life here during the war.” Existing life, like Little Lev’s baptism. He reminded us that “children are being born and couples are getting married.” He said, “we are trying to live because we understand that to be alive is to be strong to fight this evil which wants to destroy life.” Father Stephan is our brother in CHRIST.
This is not the sermon I wrote to preach this morning, not on this particular Palm Sunday. For the past two years, our Holy Week commemorations have seen us locked down inside our homes. We have waited a long time to be able to gather here in this place, to return to “normal” if you will. Much has changed over the past two years. Today, we are living a new kind of normal. We have grown accustomed to the changing realities of COVID and the divisions various public health precautions have inspired among us. Our new normal has been shattered this past month by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the shock of the daily images of destruction and slaughter which invade our screens each and every day, even that is becoming normal. I confess, my own desire to look away from the daily bombardments to shield myself from the images of blurred out bodies lying in the once suburban streets, which look very much like our streets. This has become routine, a kind of normal for us. So, I try to limit my exposure to the news in order to preserve my own mental health. I check in each morning. It has become a bit of a routine. I turn on the news. I allow the horror to touch me, just for bit, and then I move on with my day. War in Ukraine has found its way into our normal routines.
Today, marks the beginning of a break in our normal routines as we embark upon the week which we call Holy. For centuries, Christians have marked Holy Week by tracing Jesus of Nazareth’s journey to Jerusalem, bearing witness to the events which lead up to Jesus’ execution. We begin today with the joyous celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, knowing that it will lead his, betrayal, his arrest, torture, his trial, and his execution. So, here we are bearing witness to a parade which happened nearly 2000 years ago. A parade in which our brother in CHRIST, Jesus of Nazareth publicly demonstrated against what New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan calls the incredible “drag of normalcy.” Life in the first century had its own sense of normal. Jerusalem had been occupied by the Romans for decades, and the routine cruelties of Empire were normal. The celebration of the Passover happened against the backdrop of this oppression. The Empire demonstrated its power by exerting additional hardships during a time when pilgrims flocked to the city to commemorate the pass over, where their ancestors were delivered from yet another oppressor. Rome’s military might was on full display.
It was also normal for some people to rebel against the status quo. So, the religious authorities, they flexed their own muscles in order to keep the people in line. All in all, it was a normal kind of celebration, despite the violence of Empire. Even though in their heart of hearts the people longed for a messiah to save them from their oppression. A messiah the likes of King David, who would ride in with majesty and strength to put down their oppressors and lead them to victory. And along comes Jesus, moseying into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. No military might. Resisting the temptations of violence and yet still turning the heads of the crowd if only for a moment. And we all know how it will end. Rome will do what empires always do, they will crush Jesus, make an example of him. Jesus will become an instrument of their terrorism. The people Jesus longed to awaken to a new way of being will not just turn their heads away, they will join in the crushing because Jesus threatens their own status quo. How dare he expect them to change their ways now! The have spent their lives accommodating the evils of empire. They’ve made their peace with violence; they have put their faith in power, in strength, and in might. Soon, so very soon, they too will cheer on the executioners, the powers that be. Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!
It’s perfectly normal. Totally expected. Over and over again the strong, the powerful, the violent, stomp all over the weak, the powerless, the idealistic dreamers, who dream of a different way of being in the world. So, why are we here? Why do we choose to bear witness to a parade which demonstrated that resistance to violence is a dead end? Why do we still talk about resisting violence when we know that it leads to death? I expect that we are here for all sorts of reasons, many of them quite normal under the circumstances. Some of us are here looking for company as we navigate our new normal. Some of us are here out of a sense of longing for the way things used to be. Some of us are here just because it’s Sunday and that’s what you do on Sundays. But I hope that in each of us, deep down, we are also here because we are sick and tired of normal. I hope that somewhere inside each of us there is pent-up desire for a messiah, a saviour, who will hear our Hosannas and save us from the incredible drag of normalcy.
I hope that some of us are here to access hope for a new way of being in the world! A way that resists that pull into the normalcy of violence. I hope that the reality that even though the powers that be threw everything they had at Jesus, perpetrated the worst kind of violence upon him that is humanly possible, even though Jesus died up there on that bloody cross, death did not have the final word. Jesus’ dream of peace through justice, of a world where everyone has enough, and greed is replaced with generosity, and shalom becomes a reality, Jesus’ dream never died. Death did not and will not have the final word. The hope for resurrection is waiting to burst forth.
This morning, our little baby brother, Lev was baptized into this hope. In the midst of all the violence, our brother Father Stephan, spoke about the support the Ukrainian people feel from the people of Canada, from North America and from Europe. It would be perfectly normal for us to turn our backs, to walk away, to get on with our lives. Especially, when the pundits keep telling us that it is only a matter of time, Russia will win this war. They have the military advantages.
Our brother, Father Stephan spoke this morning about his sadness yesterday at the five funerals for those who did not survive the violence. Father Stephen insisted that, “despite the sadness, we are living as a people who still have hope. We are not hopeless,” he went on, “but those who live with hope, hope in victory, hope that we will continue our life, hope that we will stop the war. Every funeral for us,” he said, “but also a moment for sadness and also a moment for hope. We are as a faithful people, in providing these funerals, we hope that one day we will meet our friends, our guys, our military, in the heaven we would together be. But now, during the funeral we are feeling responsibility that we have to follow their example and do all these good things which they show by their life, defending our country, defending the people, and dignity of human beings, the people in this war.”
A perfectly normal thing for a priest to say. I felt myself slipping back into the myth of redemptive violence, longing for some of that military might. But then my brother Stephan became the voice of hope, when he insisted, “We never stop to repeat that our hero’s never die. It means that they are living forever. Why because they never stopped to love, they laid down their lives to love this world, to love the people, to love their neighbours, and I think against all this hate, and evil which we see in the faces of our enemies, we are trying to be a people who are ready to love.”
Ready to love against all this hate, and evil. Father Stephan’s words ring out as the answer to our Hossannas. For we are the messiah. The LOVE which is DIVINITY lives and moves and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. As for the faces of our enemies, Jesus’ dream that we can see in the faces of our enemies that they too are our sisters and brothers in CHRIST, this dream is our hope for resurrection.
Today, we can see the cross on the horizon, and there will be many more crosses ahead. There will be more violence, and more death. This is the normal state of affairs in our world. But this morning our little brother Lev was baptized into the Body of Christ. This morning, in Russia little sisters and brothers were also baptized. We do not live as ones without hope. Let the hosannas of our little sisters and brothers, friends and foe alike, let their hosannas ring in our ears and move our hearts to be LOVE in the world.
LOVE is not yet the normal way of being in the world. There are crosses which must be endured.
But death has not and will not have the final word. For we live in hope. Our hope lies in the not yet and already here Reign of LOVE in which justice and not violence is the way to peace. We live in hope by living lives, unafraid to be messiahs, bearing LOVE as we encounter the crosses of this world.
There are many crosses in sight and many more crosses beyond our sight, but there are many, many, many, more resurrections ahead. Resurrection will happen each and every time LOVE is brought to life in the world, in the tending of the sick, harboring of the homeless, healing the wounded, and seeking justice for the oppressed, and most of all in loving our neighbours and most of all in learning to love our enemies. This is the work of messiahs. Responding to hosannas, wherever and whenever we hear people crying out for LOVE. Let us be that LOVE in the world. Here and now. Amen.
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