The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer at Home      29th March 2020
'Don't you care?'
Ayla Lepine

Lamentations 3.19-33
Matthew 20.17-end
It is Passion Sunday. We’re turning towards the path that Jesus must take to Jerusalem, to humiliation and violence, and to the torture of the crucifixion. Psalm 22, ‘My God my God, why have you forsaken me?’, which Jesus cries out from the cross, is already in our ears. From my living room window, where I’m spending a lot of time praying for London and for our parish, I can see a flow of constant traffic, the queue for the coffee shops and the Hampstead Butcher (their quinoa supplies are still ample, apparently!), and, astoundingly, the florist still open every day with a full range of discordantly cheerful flowers for sale. I’m not sure why they think they’re an essential service, but evidently they do. There are signs of Spring everywhere, and yet we are fearful. People are dying. Distance means safety. Congregations stay away from dark and empty churches today. Everything is wrong. And yet there are so many examples of mercy, compassion, and hope. 
It is fitting that our reading from Lamentations is so stark. There is anguish, and there is pain beyond measure. And there is God’s promise of enduring love, that offers an embrace so real that nothing can separate us from it. If there was ever a time to imagine the mutual love of being held by Jesus and returning that embrace, now is the time. We may, as the writer of Lamentations describes it, be sitting alone in silence, but God is with us, knows our frailty, and won’t allow us to be crushed. This despair will not last. Hope is real, and it is stronger than death.
Pope Francis’ ‘Urbi et Orbi’ address on 27 March, which focused on the story of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8, helps us make sense of today’s lament:
‘We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. It is easy to recognise ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” 
[The disciples react:] “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?”’
This experience undoes us, deep in our core, because we believe in that moment that we are not loved, seen, or valued. As Pope Francis puts it, feeling unloved ‘unleashes storms in our hearts.’
Jesus calms the storm in the 8th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. By the time we get to Chapter 20, which we hear tonight, the storm ahead is Christ’s own death. The disciples’ response provides a compelling parallel with their attitude in the boat. They argue about who’s the best, who deserves more power, who deserves more of their leader's attention and love, as if it were a competition. The implication is similar to the emotional pain of the storm, as they’re trapped in their insecurity about who Jesus cares about most. The disciples want the kind of power which is fuelled not by humility but fear. The blind men Jesus meets along the road are a complete contrast. There is no insecurity or competition here. They just want to be healed, they know their need, and they believe that Jesus can help them. They trust, in their anguish, that Jesus does care. Jesus responds with pure compassion. 
Whatever these days of suffering, bewilderment, exhaustion and grief will bring for each of us, know that the compassion of Jesus is eternal and present. In our isolation we may feel that we are not seen, valued, or loved. We are grieving and lamenting, even as we are finding new ways of connecting and even rejoicing. 
Christopher Southgate, Carla Grosch-Miller and Hilary Ison have recently completed a project on trauma and Christian congregations. Here are some of their observations:
‘We make sense of things by being able to integrate the experience into an overarching story. But it is much too soon to assemble a coherent narrative out of all this. Even the process of meaningfully gathering together to lament what has been lost is very hard. The trauma is unfolding and there are many losses yet unrevealed.’
This is our Passion Sunday experience as we move towards Holy Week. The trauma is unfolding. There are many losses to come.
We worship the God who is moved with compassion. When we share in that compassion, whatever that may look like for you today, or tomorrow, or next week, we may find our faith is a little deeper, and our hope is a little stronger. The storm is here. But we will not drown. Amen.

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