Diocese of Pittsburgh Chrism Mass Sermon

St. Stephen's, Wilkinsburg
April 19, 2011

Late last fall, I was in New York with one night to run an errand. I started walking across town and began to encounter police barricades. They’re like portable fences that get locked together to keep people on the sidewalk and out of the street. As I went, more and more people began to converge on and fill the sidewalks. I figured it was some parade or demonstration. The going got slower and slower and before long I was hemmed in by a sea of people who were hardly moving. There was no way to turn around or get out of that inexorable surging crowd. Finally we came to a street crossing where there were several police officers. I plaintively said that I had an errand in a store across the street, and an officer opened the barricade and let me cross. I asked him why there were so many people. “The tree lighting.” I still had no idea what or where this was. It turned out to be the first night when the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was lit, and I was in the middle of half of New York and a hundred thousand tourists trying to walk past it for a quick glimpse. What were they so hungry for? Was it the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, or a glimpse of the Christ light?

The sea of humanity on that night is probably what Jesus hoped for when he called for a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. No one knows whether it was a small demonstration or if half the town turned out. Yet somehow some tourists from Greece heard about it, and in the confusion at the end of the parade they decided they wanted a closer look. They walk up to one of the disciples and blurt out, “we want to see Jesus.” They want to get a glimpse of whoever convened this flashmob. Was it mere curiosity, or did they have a sense of something deeply significant?

We never learn whether those Greeks got to see him “up close and personal.” Indeed, the very next words after the gospel we heard this morning tell us, “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.” Those Greeks were apparently disappointed that day, and that just might be the point. All sorts of strangers want to see Jesus after they get a whiff of something intriguing going on – and many of them are still looking. They may not walk up to us in the middle of a flashmob and ask to see Jesus, but then again, they just might.

What about our own wanting? Do we have as urgent a hunger as those tourists? Where have you gone looking, or discovered Jesus recently? Isn’t our task as part of the body of Christ to get him out of hiding? All of the promises we’ve made – the baptismal ones, and the ones we’re going to remember and remake today – are about that work of getting the body of Christ and the love of God out of hiding. It’s our task to help let the light of the world shine on a world that often seems very dark.

This year Palm Sunday was Domingo de Ramos in a farm worker ministry in North Carolina. Hundreds of people gathered under and around an open-air shelter to remember and re-enact the flashmob in Jerusalem. After the service, the elderly priest who serves there told me about the usual housing conditions encountered by many of the farmworkers. He showed me pictures of a laborer stretched out on a concrete floor, preferring that to the filthy mattresses spread on cots that were also evident in the photos. Padre Rojas told of the vineyard owner who insisted he housed his workers in a veritable palace, and that they certainly didn’t need new mattresses. When the ministry workers showed up with a truck full of brand new mattresses, he protested loudly, but finally relented. Many foreigners are getting to see Jesus in those fields in North Carolina. I think I saw Jesus – carrying his cross on the way to Calvary. I know I saw Jesus in the midst of the fiesta after the service.

In another congregation we met with military families – active duty personnel, spouses and children of those who are deployed, and retired members of the armed forces. All are eager members of that community of love and hope, a shelter in a world of sudden deployments, frequent moves, and for many, growing financial distress. One woman, a civilian teacher on a military base, proudly told me that she and her husband had decided they could only afford to have one child, but that when the two of them got slightly better teaching positions, they decided they could now afford to have a second – and they were so happy with both their daughters. Among those gathered were two young men in the prime of life, each of whom had obviously had significant facial reconstruction. One still wore the haircut of a marine, and the scars of his cranial surgery were painfully evident. Every person there is looking for Jesus, and finding him, in the midst of that community. I think I saw Jesus making himself evident, showing his wounds in the upper room where his disciples were hiding. I saw many reaching out to touch him, and others still looking.

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” Deacons are reminded to make Christ and his redemptive love known. Priests are similarly reminded to minister in ways that make the reconciling love of Christ known and able to be received.

Are we showing the face of Christ to the world in the way we love our neighbors? Are we looking for Christ in everyone we meet, particularly the least likely?