I’ve had an odd start to Holy Week. On this Palm Sunday, instead of singing my hosannas, waving a palm frond, and reverencing to a baby goat (no, really), I got up and went to work. My first steps onto the road that will this week lead us all to Jerusalem were taken not by wafting incense in front of the riotous crowd, but through this job that I do by day and by night. And when at half past five I’d not yet eaten lunch and the only available food in the building was what was in the vending machines, I thought that God wouldn’t mind too terribly much, even on Palm Sunday, if I broke my Lenten abstinence from chocolate to eat a Twix.
Not where and how I would normally begin this week.
This is a week when we will find God in unexpected places.
A few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon sitting on an Any Questions panel for a band of pilgrims who had come for the day from their churches around the diocese back to their mother church. They had some thought-provoking questions. I told them what hymn I most want at my funeral, what the worst sermon is that I’ve ever heard, and of my not-so-very-secret yearning for more young laity to be encouraged into church politics. And in answer to a question about whether we delude ourselves about the long-term practicality of impractical, expensive, elderly church buildings, I told them that although I have a deep sentimental attachment to at least three impractical, expensive, elderly church buildings, one thing I like to remind people of is that God isn’t only in churches.
I worship God in a church on a Sunday morning. I find him in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers, and in the singing and dancing, and in the bricks and stone that make up the fabric of that particular building. But I would have no time for a God who I thought stayed behind in his sanctuary when the church doors closed on his people on a Sunday afternoon. I believe in a God who could have stayed high on his throne, separate and exalted, but didn’t, and who when he revealed himself to humanity could have been elite and protected and worshipped, but wasn’t. This is a God who is in the world and of the world and in the living, breathing body of Christ, and when the Eucharist is ended and his people go in peace, God goes with them.
This week, we encounter God in his suffering and we find him in the unexpected places. We will find ourselves in those places, too, and be surprised by what we learn about who we really are.
We will find God betrayed by his friends.
In a garden with self-doubt and burdens that are too heavy to bear.
On the steps of a palace where he willl be arrested and bound like a political prisoner.
On the road, hurting and exhausted.
We will abandon him, and when we come back it will be to the foot of the Cross and to mourn him and all that we have loved and lost.
He will be with us in our darkest places, because he has been there too.
As the dawn breaks on Sunday, we will look for him in the place where they buried him, and who knows yet what we might find there but we will never ever be the same.