St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Third Wednesday of Advent(December 17, 2014)

Liturgical Color: Blue

Marissa Tweed, Pastoral Intern


Myrrh for Jesus' Humanity

I scanned my hospital ID to open the doors to the ICU and as soon as I did I could hear the wailing screams. I received the page just minutes before — a man had passed away in room 1402 and the nurses were having trouble dealing with the loud shrieks of grief from his wife... It was the middle of the night and she was beginning to disturb other patients.

I turned the corner and began walking down the ICU hallway. It was almost as if a sea of nurses parted to let me through — barely making eye contact as if to say, "Good luck with that, chaplain." They knew where I was going.

I arrived to the room just as a nurse was slipping out. She was visibly stressed and seemed relieved to see me. "I just don't know what to do with her." She said. "I can't calm her down and I don't know what else to do. I'll be here if you need me." The nurse was on the brink of tears.

I gently thanked her, took a deep breath, and walked inside the room.

The woman was absolutely beside herself with grief: shrieking in agony, violently shaking the shoulders of her beloved — "You can't do this to me, Will! Wake-up! Wake- up, Will!"

I quietly sat in a chair and stayed in the room with her, listening to her pain. 45 minutes later she sat down, utterly exhausted, and began to cry. I handed her a cup of water and some tissues. We sat together in silence. I was at a loss for words, feeling helpless and awkward as she mourned separation from the single most important person in her life. As uncomfortable as it was I continued to sit there - another human being present to experience the heaviness of death in the room.

It's tough being human. There's tragedy, disease, injustice, weakness, cruelty, greed, temptation, evil, exploitation, loss, pain. In many ways our humanness is brokenness... and God meets us where we are by becoming human and entering into that brokenness.

During this Advent season we've been exploring the gifts of the magi and how they help to illustrate Jesus as King, God, and Man: Gold for Jesus' royalty as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Frankincense for Jesus' divinity as Emmanuel/God with Us, and today we talk about myrrh...pointing us to the humanity of Jesus.

Myrrh is a spice product from Arabia and is obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense. Myrrh has been used for generations as a perfume, incense, and healing agent. It has a rich, smoky, balsamic aroma that is described as purifying, revitalizing, and uplifting. In antiquity, it was often used in embalming in hopes of hiding the odor of a dead body.

Part of the mortality about being human is that we stink when we die. If left to natural processes we decompose like any other creature on this earth. Jesus was connected to this same mortality. As we heard in the reading from John, Jesus' friends even buried him with Myrrh after his crucifixion.

Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. Suffering and persecution is something that Jesus experienced from the very beginning of his life, from the flight into Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod, all the way to the end of his life, to his wrongful crucifixion.

Jesus' humanity proclaims to us that we are not alone in our suffering. Even more, Jesus identifies with us in our suffering. He identifies with us in our pain and sorrow because he was human too: he laughed, he wept, he grieved, ate, drank, and slept.

Jesus was and forever will be God beside us, through it all.

For we believe in God beside us, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh,

Born of a woman's womb, servant of the poor.

He was tortured and nailed to a tree.

Knowing full passion and deep sorrow, he died forsaken.

He descended into the Earth to the place of death.

On the third day he rose from the tomb.

He ascended into heaven to be everywhere present.

And his kingdom will one day be known.

Knowing full passion and deep sorrow, Jesus identifies with us in our suffering. He is with us when we get that phone call. He is with us at the hospital. He is with us at the graveside. He is with us when we are at the foot of the cross.

He is there in the aftermath, when it feels like society itself is falling apart because there are forces of evil at work so horrendously and monstrously hateful that 132 schoolchildren are gunned down in the middle of taking their exams.

It's absolutely sickening. It can make us feel weak and powerless. But no doubt Jesus is there with the families in Peshawar, Pakistan. God is weeping right along with them.

God, through the humanity of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is with us. Not in some far off heaven somewhere, but here in this very place, and as you go home, and as you pray for those families who have lost their children, and as you struggle with what it means to be human in this world that seems to hold so much despair.

Jesus is God coming to us in a way that we can understand.

This connection with God in and of itself is a gift, and as followers of Jesus it is also a call of action to be there for our brothers and sisters who are suffering. We are called to be present, to be fellow pain-bearers, to hold them in prayer, to walk the long, hard road of what it means to be human in this world together.

In the spring of 2012, my campus ministry group took a trip to Germany on a "Lutheran Pilgrimage" over spring break. During our time there, my pastor thought it would be meaningful for us to travel to Weimar to see the remains of Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Many images of the camp remain with me, but I most vividly remember walking through the crematorium.

A distinct, poignant smell of death still lingered within those walls all those years later. I saw the strangle hooks and the ovens engineered to be large enough for multiple human bodies. I struggled to contain my visceral reaction to it all.

"Where was God?" I asked my pastor, searching his eyes for some seed of wisdom. It was way more than a philosophical question of theodicy, it had to do with real matters of life and death. "Where was God?"

His answer was profound, and has stuck with me ever since. It's even become a lens for how I understand justice and peace-making in my own discipleship walk. Pastor Collins returned my question with an equally, if not more, haunting question. He answered, "I'm confident God was here. The question is 'Where were God's people?'"

In his humanity Jesus walks with us, so we too are called to walk with others in the midst of their suffering. And not only that, but when it comes to matters of injustice we are called to stand with them in solidarity.

There can be so much suffering and pain in this world — and Jesus identifies with us in it, and walks along side of us in it, and urges us to reach out to our fellow human beings in the very same way.

Near the end of our worship service together here, you will be invited to go back near the baptismal font for a rite of healing with prayer and anointing with myrrh oil.

Experience the aroma that is described as purifying, revitalizing, and uplifting, hear words of restoration, forgiveness, healing and love, and remember that Jesus, in his royalty, in his divinity, and in his humanity is with you and with the world always.

Amen.

 

 

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