Fifth Sunday in Lent – Homily thoughts
“Ephraim Week” ©
Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div., Ph.D.
The news that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead caused a stir in the goings-on of both Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, as well as Jerusalem, the temple surroundings specifically. Some people believed in him and others went to snitch on him to the temple authorities. Quite a stir!
Jesus’ response to this was to go to Ephraim, he with those disciples accompanying him. Ephraim was about 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was set on the edge of the wilderness; a convenient spot to either slip away into the desert or to “steel up,” take the bull by the horns, and head for Jerusalem – come what may.
Jesus and his followers spent one week in Ephraim; one week of keeping out of sight in an attempt to keep attention away from him and his activities. Jesus had a target on his back and he knew it. So, he spent a week full of tension and not-knowing what’s to happen in Ephraim. Holy Week, the week that follows this week in Ephraim, was to be a time of much activity and soul-stirring, even life-changing, events. But this week in Ephraim was a time for quiet apprehension and inaction; just the time for his followers to reflect on their relationship to this Teacher, this Healer, this target of their nation’s leaders.
It could be that they mulled over questions like, “Who is Jesus to me anyway?” or “What lessons has the Teacher passed along to me for me to accept or reject?” or “If I/we lose him what will become of me/us?” Yes, the week in Ephraim was a time of tension and not-knowing. A time not unlike those times in your and my life just before life-changing events are about to happen.
I like to think that this week in Ephraim for Jesus was more than an opportunity for staging, as if this was Jesus’ way to heighten the anticipation for Holy Week’s place in salvation history. If not for Jesus, who seemed to know what was to happen to him, then for these followers it was a week to reflect, pray, and decide. After all, there had been people all along during Jesus’ ministry who had found him too much for them and left his company. Ephraim may have been the occasion for still others to do the same.
You and I have this week before Holy Week to also reflect, pray, and decide. It can be a time for remembering how I became attracted to this community and why I stay. It can be a time to recall that the times of tension and not-knowing may have been the most important life-forming times. Like, those days just before getting married – thinking and reflecting on who this other person is whom I love and to whom I am ready to commit my life. Or like those days just before making life-changing decisions, for a job or for deciding to move away from all things familiar to a new location and new opportunities. Do you remember what was important in those times?
Ephraim Week is a time to focus on what is important, to reflect upon core values. So, I wrote a song for just such an occasion.
In this song, “Who Are We Now?” each verse is preceded by a reference from Scripture, a line that speaks to the core values of our community. I submit that those values are: Freedom – Justice – Hope.
Freedom. Romans 8:21 “The world will be freed from corruption and share in the
glorious freedom of the children of God.”
We have grounded this community on two realities, the first being the sacramental heritage of our past, and the second being the reality of mature, adult, persons who choose to transform this heritage into something new. We will not walk away from our personal and collective history only to, as some people wonder why we haven’t, just to join a Protestant Church. So the freedom to choose women to preside as priest member of the community, the freedom to foster other member presiders of the Eucharist, the freedom to accept all God’s children at the Eucharistic table regardless of identity or expression, and the freedom “to show that same love always, a love so free, it is for us New Life.”
Justice. Luke 1:68-79, Benedictus
v.75 “Freed from our enemies, free to worship without fear.”
The Prayer of Zachariah, “Benedictus,” is a wonder of providence at work. The father of John the Baptist, who had been unable to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, rejoice in God’s covenant which makes it possible for people to worship without fear. We worship without fear because we are “church from the ground up.” We count on the community to affirm how we pray and worship together. Our promise in response to this covenantal relationship is kept as “all share in breaking of bread.”
The justice which Jesus brings is the result of being freed from enemies who will not acknowledge the full diversity of the children of God. To advocate for fairness, for full inclusion, and for the removal of all discrimination
Hope. 1 Peter 2:9 “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”
Exodus 19:6 “You shall be to me a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”
We see that it is as hopeful, as it is ancient, that we are a royal priesthood. For Jesus’ first followers there is clear evidence that before there were priests first there were those heads of households, itinerant prophets, women – all members of the community – who were already members of the royal priesthood, who led community Eucharist. Clearly, a community founded on freedom, justice, and hope – such as ours – can take a look during Ephraim Week and be thankful for what we have been given.
Before the big things happen, O God, we often live
through times of tension and not-knowing.
Such times can be the ones that form us, that
form your people. In Ephraim on the edge of
the wilderness your Son gathered his disciples
in a time of tension and not-knowing. As they
remained with the Teacher, may we also remain
close to You because we also hope for justice.
May this time, be the best time for us to prepare
for the events of our salvation in Holy Week and