“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mk. 11)!
- This week engulfed by the atmospheric river storm my son and I surfed alone in the polluted ocean. He was back for college spring break. Although it would have made more sense to stay home, we were there mostly for father-son time. The rain buffeted us. The winds howled offshore.
Dropping into the last impossibly steep ocean wave of the day, racing down the line, I stepped out of time and space. It felt as if the wind as much as the wave was holding me up, hurtling me above everything through catastrophe toward shore.
Later we ate sandwiches in the dryness and warmth of our car. On the way home he shared East African music with the refrain, “Mbele ya Mungu. Mbele ya Mungu. Mbele ya Mungu.”
These Kiswahili words mean “in front of God.” Indeed right then and in our best moments we feel how beautiful it is to walk before God. In this great cathedral with the light streaming through these magnificent windows, with the pillars that seem to anchor us to the heart of the earth and our choir which elevates us to heaven, we feel a hint of what it means to stand in front of God.
Mbele ya Mungu. We walk before God. We go where God goes. God is part of our real life, our thoughts, decisions and actions. We are never alone, never cut off from God’s love and mercy. At any moment we can turn to God. We can ask for direction and guidance.
When you find yourself in conflict, take a break from framing your next argument, or rehearsing your grievance, and in your heart ask God for help (homework?). Experience the miraculous in this way. Let God carry some of the weight as you seek reconciliation.
Even more frequently we have the chance to reach out to God in gratitude. We often get so lost in the busyness of our life that we miss the gifts that God constantly shares with us. Circumstances in his life and career made Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) realize this. He asked his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson if he could build a little house on his property just outside of town by Walden Pond. He lived there for two years spending his days listening to God. In his Journal Thoreau calls himself a “watchman” whose “profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature…”
- Mbele ya Mungu. We go before God. Hosanna in the highest. But this is not the whole story, not in our lives and not on Palm Sunday. Today we remember that we go before God because of Jesus. We remember that glorious moment when the people of Jerusalem laid palms across his path. But we also walk before him through the agony of his friends’ betrayal, his humiliation and suffering.
Yesterday Ellen called us to the cathedral to pray for the victims and survivors of gun violence. Then we joined a massive demonstration at City Hall. I was grateful to see so many friends here. The day brought back memories from a spring day just after our high school classes let out when we lost two boys. One was stabbed to death in our parking lot and the other went to prison for this crime. Even today when I go near that place I feel the weight of the tragedy so acutely. As I get older I think of what those boys might have done and been. I wonder how much their parents, sisters and brothers continue to suffer.
Increasing numbers of people have been drawn into tragedies like this. Since the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012, 438 others have been shot in 200 school shootings (138 killed). We cannot even begin to imagine this suffering.
Jesus empties himself out to be part of this world. He subjects himself to the terrifying forces of cruel ignorance. He gives his life to set us on a more humane path, to draw us home to God. Jesus says, “blessed are the merciful… blessed are the meek… blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5). He invites the most despised people of his society into his life and shares meals with them. His humility and love are so great. The Apostle Paul says, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2). Because of Jesus, with him, we walk before God in an altogether different way. Mbele ya Mungu.
This week a cathedral trustee came to my office to give me feedback on my leadership. In keeping with the spirit of our year of truth she spoke candidly and our conversation was tremendously. At the end of our meeting she thanked me for my general attitude of joy. But, she said, we cannot always be happy. In her heart I think she was asking what do we make of life’s tragedies?
The Buddhists are right we suffer more because of our attachment to the world, because of the way we love. For me this is not a reason to love any less. Each of us will face terrible suffering, tragedies that we may not even be able imagine on a day like this. But with all my heart I believe that our pain is encompassed by the love and presence of Jesus.
At the beginning of this holy week I want to share a long excerpt from a poem by Leonard Cohen (1934-2016). On a radio broadcast he calls it, “a small prayer.” For me it is about Jesus, who walks and suffers with us every day and at the same time knows he is carried by God.
“In the eyes of men he falls, and in his own eyes too. He falls from his high place, he trips on his achievement. He falls to you, he falls to know you. It is sad, they say. See his disgrace, say the ones at his heel. But he falls radiantly toward the light…”
“They cannot see who lifts him as he falls, or how his falling changes, and he himself bewildered till his heart cries out to bless the one who holds him in his falling. And in his fall he hears his heart cry out, his heart explains why he is falling, why he had to fall, and he gives over to the fall.”
“Blessed are you, clasp of the falling. He falls into the sky, he falls into the light, none can hurt him as he falls. Blessed are you, shield of the falling. Wrapped in his fall, concealed within his fall, he finds the place, he is gathered in.”
“While his hair streams back and his clothes tear in the wind, he is held up, comforted, he enters into the place of his fall. Blessed are you, embrace of the falling, foundation of the light, master of the human accident.”
This morning at the Lord’s table as we go hurtling through catastrophe toward shore, step with me out of time and space. Let us pray for each other as we walk before God to the cross and beyond. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Hosanna in the highest heaven. Mbele ya Mungu. Blessed are you shield of the falling.
 Malcolm Clemens Young, The Spiritual Journal of Henry David Thoreau (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2007) 23. Thoreau, Henry David Journal ed. John C. Broderick and Robert Sattelmeyer. Volume 4 (Princeton University Press, 1981-) 315, 55.
 Jugal K. Patel, “After Sandy Hook, More than 400 People Have Been Shot in Over 200 School Shootings,” The New York Times. 15 February 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/15/us/school-shootings-sandy-hook-parkland.html