Homily Commencement Evensong May 23, 2016
Cynthia Briggs Kittredge
Greetings and welcome on this occasion of Evensong in Christ Chapel before the graduation of the class of 2016.
James and John were the valedictorian and salutatorian of the graduating class of disciples. Or they were senior sacristans.
“When you take your throne, reserve us seats right next to you.”
“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Jesus’ question to James and John is ours tonight. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
“You think you get this? You’ve got to be kidding? Do you know what you’re asking?”
Drink the cup means to take the cure, drink the Kool-Aid.
Take it in both hands and drink it, the cup of grief, the bitter taste of betrayal and shame.
To be baptized with Jesus’ baptism is to get soaked. Your security flooded away.
To be baptized with my baptism means to go whole hog, be all in, sign up for the whole program, the Whole Enchilada.
It’s not sipping, not dipping. Drink ‘er down, bottoms up. Take the plunge into the deep water.
“Are you sure you’re up for it?”
Like you who will graduate tomorrow, these disciples are well into their formation process; they’ve traveled a long way along the road in the gospel of Mark.
They have believed the Good news of the Kingdom of God. They left their nets.
They witnessed Jesus cool fevers and repair withered limbs and animate the paralyzed and cast out the demons of madness and self-destruction. They have been rescued from the storm and eaten bread in the desert. They have hiked up the high mountain and seen him dazzling.
It’s no wonder really that they are excited, eager to get it all over with, allied with a winner, wooed toward power, glimpsing glory. It felt like it had been a long time since they had begun.
Do you remember when you began your formation?
Maybe you don’t even remember. Was it when you got baptized as a baby, a little water, trickled on your forehead, wiped away before it touched your white christening gown?
Or when God worked within you, when you were a child playing, a child in wonder, a child hurt? Or later when you knew yourself damaged and healed by Christ?
You assented. You committed yourself to discover the way of Jesus. You stepped into the water.
You were hopeful, full of zeal, like all those Jerusalemites, confessing their sins by the Jordan. You were ready for God to be here, make things right. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Preach the good news, heal and feed out there where the cross is outside the chapel walls.
You said, “Yes, I can do it!” “We are able.”
You wanted to learn about, to live the lives of the saints and pour over the pages of scripture. You wanted to learn how to chant the office, how to diagnose and heal, how to listen, how to know your own feelings and feel them, but not let them run amok and keep you apart from others or hurt them.
You entered into community. You recommitted, renewed your vows. You remade the covenant in a new way.
And you signed that matriculation book at evening prayer just like this.
Then you discovered that theology was more complicated than you thought. Church history was full of villains as well as heroes. And the Bible! As one of my students said about Paul, “The parts you understand you don’t like, and the parts you like you don’t understand…”
That’s just the past.
Then there’s the present. Your classmates are complicated. You saw weakness in strong ones and strength in the weak, wisdom in the fools, and idiocy among the wise.
And the faculty is admirable, amazing, and frustratingly human.
Christ Chapel, the same space that offers solace and strength, is felt as repetition, obligation, boredom, fury.
You saw the Mexican American border, the cycle of abuse and addiction, the persistence of depression.
There is so much suffering. They call formation “immersion” for a reason, formation as death.
Strange thing and remarkable thing: Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ beginning, implied his end — it had his death wrapped right inside it: the trial, the torture, the tomb.
Did you know you were going to have to die?
Did you know there would be loss of certainty, loss of identity?
You brought experiences of death with you, and there were deaths you encountered right here and mourned in this chapel.
“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
Strange and remarkable thing: Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ beginning, had his resurrection, his life wrapped right up inside it: the rolled away stone, reunion in the garden, meeting on the road and eating together again.
So tonight your answer to Jesus’ question is the same as James and John.
“Yes we are able.” You can go the whole hog. You do sign up for the whole program, impossible as it sounds!
You are recommitting again, renewing the covenant with God, living Christ’s life and making life known in a noisy, violent, struggling world.
You live into the whole thing, step-by-step, re-committing, re-beginning, ordination, licensing, learning, being shaped and remade.
The bitter cup of betrayal and shame is the sacramental cup of Christ’s blood of the new covenant, the whole thing, all in one sip. In the sip is the whole thing.
The baptism with which Christ is baptized is the water from the font splashed over the heads of the babies and children at the Easter Vigil. A dip conveys the whole thing; the whole thing is contained in that fateful and wonderful dip.
Yes, you are able. We are able.
And the glory, the glory of Jesus–haven’t we seen it all along the road? Don’t we know it now?