Palm Sunday, 2019

Baptism of Thomas Stone Iglehart

Grace Episcopal Church, Radford, VA

Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 23:1-49

The Rev. Dr. Kathy Dunagan

There is a feast day in the church for about every saint and story in the Bible. We’ve been studying the saints this year during Lent and we’ve learned about some of them.  We don’t usually celebrate saints days because they are mostly on weekdays and we have come to be a Sunday morning only church. Lot’s has changed in the way we do church through the centuries.

But it used to be that people lived in villages and they would gather on the days set aside for certain feasts - like the Annunciation, the story of when the angel came to young Mary and asked her to bear the Christ Child.  Or the Transfiguration, the Ascension, the Baptism of Jesus, and Pentecost to name a few. We still do some of these special celebrations on Sunday’s when they roll around.

But today, well, I think our liturgy this morning needs a new name.  I’m thinking we should call this Schizoid Sunday or Multiple Personalities Sunday or something like that!  Because today, especially this year, we are actually celebrating three liturgies in one.

There used to be an extra Sunday in Lent called Passion Sunday in which we became very serious and did a dramatic reading of the passion according to John or sometimes Luke like we read this morning.  But Jon just read the shorter version from Luke to save time today. We’ll read the Passion According to St. John dramatically on Good Friday.

Somewhere along the way, and you can ask me later about the details, we merged that service into the service of Palm Sunday.  Palm Sunday is that special day when we remember that Jesus was celebrated and praised as he road a donkey into Jerusalem, when people hailed him King of the Jews and everyone was joyful. So since we merged these two services, we do the palms part and we feel glad and then we do the passion reading and we feel sad right after having processed jubilantly with palms. Sometimes all this feels confusing and weird.

And to add to the confusion, this year we are going to celebrate the liturgy of Holy Baptism in the middle. So, we started with a hymn of joy about Jesus as King and later Mason will play O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded because we must turn our attention to the difficult parts of the passion story that will unfold this week.

Now, if you attend all the services this week you will participate in the reading of nearly 40 bible lessons. We will follow the story of when Jesus washed the feet of his disciple and then we will wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday. That same night we’ll celebrate the first communion and “do this in remembrance of him.” Then we’ll strip the altar and turn out the lights and live into the fact that Jesus died on the cross and stayed in the tomb for three days. It’s not easy liturgy.  It makes you uncomfortable. It’s meant to make you uncomfortable. Then, on Saturday night we’ll tell more of the story and celebrate an early Easter. Then next Sunday morning we’ll settle into the joy part and celebrate the resurrection. And then we’ll really feast at coffee hour and family gatherings.

Now, all this may seem schizoid, or confusing but while planning this morning’s service, I’ve come to feel very excited about this particular mash up of liturgies.

You see.  This morning we are going to drown young Stone Iglehart! He will die unto Christ.  Now, that’s a really scary idea and we know that he will only get a little wet and keep on living, right?  But this is not just a mere symbol of death we speak of. Baptism is the most important sacrament of the church, next to Holy Eucharist.  In our baptism we die unto Christ so that we can rise with him in the resurrection. In our baptism we die unto our selves, we die unto our selfish ways and we die with Christ and become one with him.

Then, as soon as young Stone is dried off we’ll anoint him with oil, the same oil that Jesus was anointed with by Mary of Bethany a week ago, the same oil we anoint each other with at our Noon Eucharist and Healing service on Wednesdays when we pray together for healing and wholeness, the same oil that the women took to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus on that first Easter morning. And he wasn’t there.

We will anoint Stone in this way because he will have died unto Christ and risen as Christ’s own forever.  We are anointed like royalty.

Nearly a hundred years ago, the Italian sculptor Guido Galletti created a statue of Jesus looking up towards heaven with his arms raised in orans position. Orans position is an ancient way of holding your arms when praying.  It is the way I hold my arms and my hands, palms up, when I lead us in the Eucharistic prayers and any prayer really. It is a prayer pose.

In 1954, the story goes, this statue, which is named Christ of the Abyss, somehow fell into the waters of the Italian Riviera and sank (near Portofino). (Apparently, he landed on his feet!) Coincidentally, this was right near the spot where a famous Italian diver (Duilo Merchant) had died. So, the statue was left where it sank as a beautiful memorial to that diver.  It is still there and a favorite spot to this day for scuba diving.

Ten or fifteen years later, someone built a replica of the Christ of the Abyss statue and gave it to Key Largo  who placed it in more shallow waters where you can see it from the surface. So, if you’d like to go see this lovely statue, you can do that a little closer to home. It weighs two tons and I have no idea how they got it into the water the way they did.

A colleague who was a military chaplain once told me he was traveling with the Army in Panama and was a part of a large transport of soldiers in several small vessels.  Each vessel had a local guide. The guide in my friend’s boat kept staring at this chaplain. His Army uniform had a cross or two on it so he was clearly a chaplain. The guide finally spoke to him, in Spanish.

Cristo es in el agua!

My friend, like me, did not speak much Spanish and wasn’t sure what he was saying.

Cristo es in el agua!

The chaplain strained to understand as the guide excitedly pointed to the water beneath them.

Cristo es in el agua!

Finally, the chaplain saw it.  The statue of Christ, in the water. Just like the one in Italy and Key Largo.

Cristo es in el agua! Christ is in the water!

The replica of this famous statue that stands in the port near Panama is said to represent the prayers of Jesus for the fishermen coming and going each day in their work.

Our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians this morning is that lovely poem that is remembered as “The Christ Hymn.”  

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

Paul was explaining to the church in Philippi that facing the joy of the Christ the King and his resurrection at the same time as the agony of his crucifixion is not schizoid at all.  Paul points out that we are to “be in the same mind” as Jesus. So we must empty ourselves in our baptism.

Further, we must realize that we are commanded by Jesus to renounce Satan, turn to Jesus and “put our whole trust in his grace and love.”  That is the vow Stone’s parents and Godparents will take on his behalf this morning. And then we, all of us, will renew our own baptismal vows by saying - out loud, together, right here in front of God and everybody, that we believe, that we continue in the teachings and fellowship and the breaking of the bread and in the prayers, that we will strive for justice and “respect the dignity of every human being.” We made these vows when we were baptized and we repeat them now so that we can be one in Christ.

Christ is in the water and we are in Christ because of our baptism.  We can face the retelling of the passion because we know that, though we sad, and we might get wet, we have died unto him. And we have risen in him as well. And now we continue on our journey following Christ for the rest of our lives filled with joy, the joy of the king of kings. The joy of our salvation.