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March 24, 2024 “Taking the Form of a Doula”

March 24, 2024 “Taking the Form of a Doula”

Lisa Wiens Heinsohn

Homily for St. John’s Episcopal Church by Lisa Wiens Heinsohn given March 24, 2024

Palm Sunday: Mark 14:1-15:47; Philippians 2:5-11

Every year, we remember.

We remember the sacred stories that are alive, that are a well that does not run dry, because they hold for us a map of the human condition, and the presence of God in the midst of it all.

Today, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for followers of Jesus’ Way of Love. This week we re-live, re-learn, what it is to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem. To be in that sacred meal of the Passover with him. To go with him to the Garden of Gethsemane and so dread what is coming that we sweat blood as we pray. To be with him as he is arrested, and all his beloved, the very ones who said they would never leave him, run for their lives. We walk with him as he is accused by the highest religious leaders of the day. The ancient equivalent of Bishops and Archbishops, the priests and pastors of the most important churches, all point the finger in their outrage at what they say he claims to be. He is beaten and humiliated. Roman Pilate adds his callous endorsement of the judgment even though he can see it is unfair. And then Jesus suffers a long, cruel death.

Why is it so important that we remember this?

Why is it so important that we tell the same stories, year after year? For not just centuries, but millennia?

Have you ever given your word, and then broken it?

Have you ever been betrayed?

Have you ever left someone who is in despair?

Have you ever lied to save your own skin?

Have you ever had the best intentions, and fallen short?

Have you ever been humiliated, or humiliated others?

Have you ever pointed the finger in righteous indignation, utterly sure of yourself, glad when someone else finally gets the comeuppance you think they so richly deserve? Have you ever been the one at whom fingers are pointed?

Have you ever been in despair?

Are you human?

Holy Week is a time when we can put down our burdens, lay aside our duties, and make space for total honesty about ourselves and this world. Every one of us is every person in the great drama of Holy Week. Every tradition has its genius, and part of the greatest wisdom of Christian tradition as it is meant to be, is that it does not flinch in face of suffering and evil. We are called not to deny it.

This is our chance. It is our chance to allow it all to come to the surface. Allow all that is in you and in us, especially that which we want to hide, to mingle with the great drama you see today, and Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, and that terrible day Holy Saturday, when everything is over and no hope is even imaginable. And in the darkest time, in the midst of the hopelessness, light dawns. We know what Easter means. We know it because we have lived it. For us it is the greatest source of hope in all creation. But we are not there yet.

Today, to set the stage for Holy Week, I’d like to invite us to delve deeply into the Philippians reading where one tiny phrase jumped out at me so much as I prepared for this day and this week. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Let me say that again.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

This is possible.

It is possible because just as he was in very nature God, we too are made in the image of God. We are sacred. Before any of the terrible things humans have ever done, we are holy and beautiful and good. And because we are made of God, children of God, we can be filled with the universal love and freedom Jesus taught and embodied. Philippians says:

Though Jesus had God’s nature, he did not regard this as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.

Unfortunately that phrase has been used far too often to do the exact opposite of its intent. If Jesus was a slave, that must mean slavery is OK, right? If Jesus was subservient, it must mean we can manipulate others to think that only if they do anything we want will they be Christlike. If Jesus took the form of a slave it must mean that none of our own needs or desires are important, right? NO. Unfortunately these interpretations have been around for centuries, and that is an abomination.

What does it really mean, that Jesus “took the form of a slave”? The Greek word for slave is doulos, where we get our word “doula.” Just as a doula forgets herself completely when she is helping another woman in labor—just as she supports, serves, guides, comforts, encourages, all to bring forth a beautiful new life—so the Spirit of Christ is still here, midwifing our truest selves, our beautiful shining divine selves that are called to heal this world with love. We are called, not to be milquetoast groveling non-persons, but to be midwives of each other’s divinity—that of every person you see in the pews around you, and in the Ecuadorean families we are companioning, and of the people who wait for the bus on our front steps, and of the people in your family who bug you the most.

As we walk through Holy Week, let us allow all that has been buried in us to come to the surface, and get the healing or forgiveness or affirmation we need. Although we are far from perfect, let us midwife one another to express the sacredness that is our birthright, that is the core of who we all are. Let us find out which character in the Great Drama most speaks to us today, if can let ourselves be honest about what has been true in our lives.  Let us release that which we do not need to carry any longer, to be caught up into the drama of Holy Week, and finally come to an end on Good Friday. Let us midwife one another, so that our truest selves can be born with Easter, with a joy and a laughter that can never be taken away from us. Let us walk the way of the cross with Jesus, and find it none other than the way of life and peace. Amen.

10am Service