The sermon on Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014) at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church was called “Always Go to the Funeral.” I remember thinking, “Okay Mark (Ramsey), what does going to a funeral have to do with Palm Sunday?” I decided to go with it anyway for he often comes up with thought provoking titles.
He began by telling a story about the English poet John Milton. Milton tried to write a poem about the suffering of Jesus but all he could talk about was how HE felt about the suffering of Jesus so he gave up. Mark then outlined three reasons why it’s so difficult to be in the presence of anyone who suffers. I related to the first reason.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve told folks who know about my brain injury that I probably won’t remember their name. Often they say “I know how you feel because…” and then they launch into a long story about their own difficulty with remembering names. The problem is, they probably do not forget someone’s name after knowing them for a number of years which happens to me all the time.
It happened just his morning when I took my high intensity water aerobics class at the YMCA. A man whom I know at GCPC came for the first time and I wanted to introduce him to class members. The problem was, I couldn’t remember his name. I’ve learned how to hide my name recall issues but I’ve decided when it is appropriate, to ask their name. The first time I did this, the person was a little taken aback. He wasn’t rude (thank heavens!) and because of my honestly, he learned a little bit about some of the challenges of brain injury.
Mark pointed out that the only people Jesus knew who didn’t abandon him that last week was the women. When Jesus was crucified, his acquaintances, “including women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:49) The women were the first people to visit him at the tomb. (Matthew 24:1, 2) I believe the reason for this was the women knew what it was like to suffer. The women knew what it was like to be separated from society. The women knew what it was like to have no power. (Yes, while it is MUCH better in our day, we still have a long way to go!)
The title for the sermon comes from a story told by Deirdre Sullivan and her philosophy to always go to the funeral. She wrote, “…I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals … means I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it…I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand, heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable occasional calamity.”
In his sermon Mark said, “Sharing in life’s occasional calamity is what the church is supposed to be about. Isn’t that where the promises of God get their strongest test and their most prominent work out?” While this is true, during this Holy Week I want to celebrate all the folks who have brain injuries and how much you mean to me. I also want to celebrate what we mean to each other for unless you have been through it, you can’t really know what it is like.
I’m looking forward to attending the Institute on Theology and Disability this year. It’s a place where folks with disabilities are given a voice. We’re taken seriously whether we have had theological training or not. Many of us have suffered and in suffering, the Holy is found. So I am going to the funeral this week. I hope you’ll join me.