Sermon – April 13, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want. Matthew 26:39
Please be seated.
One of the most challenging things in my life occurred when my father was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. The disease is a neurological disorder that attacks the brain. Over 10-20 years, the person continues to lose body functions. It is especially noticeable in the beginning with lack of balance in walking and jerkiness of movement in the arms and legs. There is no cure. So, once my father was diagnosed at the age of 68, I knew I would watch the slow decline towards death.
Eight years after his diagnosis, I wrote this poem:
By Rebecca Myers
It’s in the little things
Now you have called me
Because you cannot remember
Your ATM PIN number
I knew some of what was coming with my father, because his mother had died of the disease also. I was my father’s daughter and had told him when I was just a child that I would take care of him. When my father was diagnosed, I prepared myself for the task of caring for him. Now, I was extremely fortunate, because my father, who was a lawyer and judge, took great care in planning for he and for my mother’s care. They decided they’d go into a nursing home and chose the place they’d go. They had the resources to pay for this care and to provide some extra care in addition. For the most part, my role was making sure everything got paid.
While a recurrence of kidney cancer ultimately caused his death ten years after his diagnosis in January of 2011, the quality of his life was dramatically altered by the Huntington’s at that time. I could not have a conversation with him. Any questions I asked had to require only a yes/no or one-word response. In some ways, we were blessed by not having to watch the toll of the Huntington’s disease.
Yet, as I remember all of this, I am acutely aware that somewhere lurking deeply was the prayer that a cure would be found to help my father. I had to settle for the newer medications that controlled the involuntary movements, so I was spared seeing my father become like his mother, my grandmother, who literally shook to death.
And my involvement with this disease is not over. My father’s sister had the disease and died last year and my younger brother is dying from the disease now, in a nursing home in Northwest Pennsylvania. While my youngest brother and I will not get the disease – we’ve been tested – and none of my children or descendants will get the disease, there are a number of people in my family who have not been tested.
How I would have given anything to have this inevitable outcome for my father removed.
Not only in our Gospel today, but in the passages immediately preceding, Jesus makes it clear he knows what’s coming. The outcome is inevitable. In Luke, it says, he set his face to go to Jerusalem…. (Luke 9:51) There is no turning back…no changing what is to come.
While I have my particular stories, haven’t there been times in your life when you know something hard, difficult and challenging is coming? I think Jesus provides us with ways to face the inevitable difficult times. What does Jesus do?
- Pray. Time and again, we read how Jesus withdrew to a place to pray. Here he is, facing betrayal by the ones he loved, and he goes to this beautiful olive grove and prays. And he pours his heart out to God…maybe even pleading or arguing with God – isn’t there another way? He tells God exactly how he’s feeling. We can get hung up on the right way to pray, but Jesus has given us the Lord’s Prayer and also this prayer in the garden – just tell God what is in your heart, no matter what.
- Surround yourself with people who love you. Now, this community Jesus was with certainly had its flaws and especially during this time in his life. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, one of them cut off the ear of the High Priest’s slave. The three who came with Jesus to the garden couldn’t keep awake! No, they weren’t perfect. And it was Jesus’ followers who stood at the foot of the cross. It was Jesus’ followers who took down his body and prepared it for the grave. It was His followers who came that morning to find him in the tomb. It was his followers who told the story over and over, even when they faced terrible deaths, so that we today know the story. Though our friends and family may not be perfect and sometimes feel like they do more damage than good, overall, we need this human community and these relationships, especially during the tough times.
- Trust your soul to God. Jesus ends his plea with, “not what I want, but what you want.” He trusted his soul and his very life to God. What Jesus went through was awful. He probably could have fought against the people who tortured him. Maybe he could have pleaded with Pilate or made a great argument to sway Pilate. But he did not do that. He relied upon God. He kept his calm, even refusing to speak. “But Jesus was silent,” the Word says. Jesus knew who he was and whose he was. Jesus relied on God. He knew no human could fully understand what was happening. There were no words that could be heard by humans. He knew that no human beings could take away his dignity, nor separate him from the love of God.
One thing we know about this life…the hard, difficult times will come. And sometimes we surely see them coming and can do nothing to stop them. You may see other things in how Jesus lived during these last days that will help you during those times. Prayer, community and trusting in God may not stop the inevitable; and prayer, community and trusting in God, do give us a way through.