|Photo Credit: Ken Ratcliff on Flickr.com
I really like roller coasters. Always have. Perhaps it’s the adrenaline rush brought on by every instinct in your body telling you: you’re gonna die now! And yet, in the end, actually cheating death!
It has been a long time since I’ve been to Canada’s Wonderland. I remember that it was the year we moved to St. Luke’s that they opened the new coaster, Behemoth. Louisa and her friends were elsewhere in the park and I waited, alone with a gazillion teenagers in a line that seemed to take forever as I unwillingly eavesdropped on teenage conversations about who had broken up with whom and dozens of more intrigue. After finally getting on, the train started up the incredibly long first hill and then it seems like a bit of a time dilation right at the top – a hesitation – just before going over the edge.
I had never experienced anything like it. It felt like it was more than a 90 degree angle as we plummeted over the edge. We’re gonna die now, I thought, and as we were about half-way down that first insane drop I said to myself, “If I survive this, I’ll never have to do it again!” as I clung on for dear life. And then we swooped and spun and felt the g and negative g forces over and over for the duration of the ride. I finally poured myself out of the car and with wobbly legs, headed first for the exit, and then straight over to the line-up to do it all again!
A roller-coaster, I realize is a good analogy for this past week: Holy Week, with it’s highs and lows. We started out the week with the high of Jesus’ triumphal, yet humble, procession into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey on Palm Sunday. The crowds were eager to welcome him, waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna”, hailing him as their King. In the same service, after our procession into the Church we read the story of Jesus’ passion, taking us through his trial, humiliation, torture and execution on the cross. And we have had services every day of the past week, telling the story of his last days before his death.
Thursday, we had a simple but celebratory meal together, marking Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, and then switched gears as we stooped to wash feet, following Jesus’ example and ending in the Church, following Eucharist, with the stripping and washing of the altar, leaving the front of this Church bare and barren in preparation for the starkness of Good Friday.
Friday we went through the story of Jesus’ crucifixion bringing up symbols of Jesus’ passion throughout the service right up to the closing of the tomb with a heavy stone. That was the lowest of the low as we left that service. And then last night we celebrated the Easter Vigil with the darkness of the empty Church filling with people and their lighted candles and darkness was transformed into light. We even celebrated an adult baptism last night and remembered our own baptism as we were asperged with water from the sacred font. What an incredible high.
And today, again, we started out with Mary in the depths of despair. I’m sure that she thought things could not be worse when she made her way to the tomb when it was so early that it was still dark. And yet, when she gets there, it is worse: even the dead body of her Lord has been taken from her: stolen, she thinks. Once again we are rock bottom in the story. And then, with one word spoken: her own name, “Mary” we are brought right back up to the highest high again as Mary realizes that Jesus is alive! Hallelujah! He’s alive! What could be higher than this news?
Yes, holy week is a roller coaster with many ups and downs. But it ends on the highest high. Jesus is alive!
And then, when I reflect further on it, I realize that Holy Week is a microcosm of our own lives too. Our lives are like a roller coaster as well. We have all experienced the lows and the highs. And sometimes, when we’re in a low spot it is hard to imagine how we’re going to get out and up on the other side.
When I think of what we see every year, I recognize how many people have been living those ups and downs. Just thinking in terms of life liturgies, we’ve seen baptism over this past year, the most recent one being the parishioner who was baptized last night. We’ve celebrated many weddings, and this year, that same parishioner baptized last night will also be wed to his fiancée, another parishioner here, this summer.
Every All Saints Day we remember the names of those who have died who either had their funeral here or at the funeral home, officiated by one of our clergy. This past All Saints Day we remembered 54 names!
And in between the celebrations of birth, and marriage and the remembering of death, we’ve prayed with and for people at every stage of their life: anointing the sick and the dying, visiting the aged, visiting the prisoner. Celebrating with people in their new home and welcoming the homeless to share a nourishing meal with us. And we have welcomed a family of refugees and helped them to start the process of integration into Burlington and to a new life and a new chance at peace.
When I think of the past year and when I look out and see all of the people who have come to us to celebrate this Easter service, I realize that Holy Week is such a central story for us because all of us have experienced it (or at least a lot of it) in our own lives or the lives of those we love.
Yesterday I visited and anointed a parishioner who just moved into the Hospice for the last of his days and then I went to the funeral of a former parishioner of ours and heard some of the story of his life. Another parishioner of ours lost her mother on Good Friday.
Next month, I will celebrate at the joyous wedding of a fine gentleman who is in his mid-seventies.
Over this past year, I have seen the same mix of emotions play over the faces of people as Mary had, when she thought her Lord’s body had been stolen, and also when she realized that he was alive.
But today is Easter Day: the day we remember that it all ends on the highest of highs because: life doesn’t ultimately end. Because Jesus has risen, he opened to us everlasting life.
Now looking out over you all, I know that even on this Easter Day, some of you are at different places in the Holy Week of your lives. Some of you are at the celebratory feast in the upper room. And some of you are in the depths of Good Friday, or at the starkness of the empty tomb. But I am here to proclaim to all of us, no matter where we are in our journey that it ends in glory because, ultimately the end isn’t an end at all, but a new and joyous beginning which defeats even death. Jesus is alive!
Now it wasn’t for another few years after I experienced the Behemoth at Canada’s Wonderland, that they built an even bigger roller coaster called Leviathan. It was my niece, Rebecca, who taught me the proper way to ride a roller coaster, because I was sitting just behind her. I was in my Behemoth position, hanging on for dear life. But there was my niece showing me the way it’s done - taking what I call the Pentecostal position. Both hands raised up, right through the ups and downs, staring down fear, cheating death, laughing with glee.
The Pentecostal position at Easter: arms raised, laughing, shouting with joy, ending on the high: Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Hallelujah! Amen.