Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunrise, Sunset

   Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord   A 
On September 17, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  Winning the Revolutionary War had gained them independence, but forming the 13 colonies into a single nation was a battle all it’s own.  As the last members of the Constitutional Convention signed the document, Benjamin Franklin—speaking to James Madison and a few others nearby—pointed to the chair on which President Washington had been seated during the proceedings.  At the top of the chair’s high back was painted a golden sun peaking over the horizon.  Franklin noted that it has always been a particular challenge to artists to depict the difference between a rising and a setting sun.  Throughout the Convention, he had many times looked behind the President and, due to the back and forth of the debate and his own hopes and fears for how things might end, was unable to tell whether this sun was rising or setting on the young country.  “But now at length,” said Franklin, “I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, not a setting sun.”

Sunrise, or sunset? 

That question has endured—and the answer has varied—throughout our nation’s history.  We’ve seen times of war, and times of peace.  We’ve witnessed the rise and fall of both our material fortunes and our moral integrity.  That question can also be asked on a global scale—in times like our own, for example, which are marked by such impressive technological progress, but also by gas attacks and missiles in Syria, a terrorist truck driver in Stockholm, and (just this morning) by the bombing of churches in Egypt.  Likewise, it can be asked in our individual lives, as we find ourselves shifting between joy and sorrow, trials and triumphs, sickness and health.

Sunrise, or sunset? 

The question can also be asked here in the Church.  We rightly look to the Church to be a sure and steady anchor in an often turbulent world.  But changing times, apparent right here in our own parish, can leave us uncertain: clinging to the past, and a bit fearful about the future; wondering if we’re standing on the threshold of something exciting and new, or if we can only expect gradual, continuing decline. 

Sunrise, or sunset? 

That question is not unique to Christians today, for it surely must have been asked by the disciples who witnessed firsthand the events we commemorate during this Holy Week.  What elation, what expectancy there must have been for the future when they walked alongside Jesus, who was riding like royalty into the holy city as the exuberant crowds waved palms of victory and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  But what dejection, what desolation, only days later, to behold him dragged as a criminal through now jeering crowds to be nailed to a Roman cross outside Jerusalem’s walls, hanging beneath the taunting, ironic charge laid against him: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Sunrise, or sunset? 

My friends, we Christians are without a doubt people of the sunrise.  From ancient times, it’s been Catholic tradition to build churches with their altars toward the East.  (Such is the case with all four of our churches here in St. André’s Parish.)  Our buildings are literally “oriented”—turned toward the Orient, the East, the land of the rising sun.  And that’s because we have something so much greater than Benjamin Franklin possessed.  Franklin had optimism: a positive regard for the future based on what human beings had been able to accomplish in the past.  But we Christians have hope, which is founded not on any mere human achievement, but on the eternal faithfulness of God.  No matter the surrounding darkness, no matter the threatening gloom, we are sure the sun is rising—believing that humility is a path leading to exultation; that life is far, far stronger than death; that even should we feel abandoned, in Jesus we have truly encountered God-with-us.

Benjamin Franklin was inspired by a painted sun on a wooden chair—one you can still see in Philadelphia.  But we draw our hope from the world’s true Light, once nailed to the wood of the Cross…but there no more.

During these days of Holy Week, and through every circumstance of life, let us keep our faces turned toward the East.  Even when within the dim shadow of death, we know the Sun is rising!

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