As I write it is Monday, April 10, 2017. Yesterday, I worshipped on Palm Sunday with my wife. The children paraded through the sanctuary waving their palm branches. It was glorious; a joyous expression of the faith! I was sitting on the aisle and as they went past our row, I tried to catch the eyes of kids streaming past. When I connected eye to eye, I would wink and wave at the littler ones. Big smiles greeted me in return. I told friends of ours in Jolynn’s Sunday School class that I wanted one of our grandchildren to be with us on such a great day. And yet today, I read my paper as I ate my cereal. I prayed for the Christian churches in Egypt that were bombed. I prayed for those regardless of their faith commitment who suffered from violence and terror. I prayed for U.S. troops overseas that they might be safe and return home soon. I prayed for our President and leaders of both parties. I prayed for our churches that the Lord might find us faithful in this tumultuous Holy Week. As I looked up in conclusion, it was the cross that caught my eye. You see, this week we call Holy exists in the shadow of the cross. So much of modern living has the taste and even texture of tragedy and trial. Much of life has the grip of struggle and strife. We too have hills to climb as did Jesus that Holy Week so long ago. My mind came back to a story that Rev. Ben Disney had shared in a sermon at the start of Lent. He passed it on to me, and I share it without editing.
“It went on for ten straight days. May 10-20th 1969. It was known as Hill 937 The battle was part of the Vietnam War - for ten days North Vietnamese fought soldiers from the United States over control of the hill. In the end 72 Americans died- 372 wounded. Losses on the North Vietnamese side was estimated at 630 dead. The hill had no strategic value. Two weeks after the Americans took it - they abandoned it. It was known as Hamburger Hill - And it became a metaphor of the insanity and futility of war when there is no clear purpose or mission. There are some hills worth dying on Some causes worth giving our lives to Some principles worthy of our highest calling But I need to know in the course of my life - Which hills are worth dying on and which ones are not? Because the truth is there really is a hill worth dying on How do I know that? How do I know which hill matters most? Because the one we follow - Jesus - Has gone to great lengths to die on that particular hill And he invites me to take up my cross and do the same." (Rev. Ben Disney, March 19, 2017; Arborlawn United Methodist Church)This my friends is the call and claim of this week which we call Holy. Jesus has died on that hill for us and challenges us now to follow Him in service and love of a broken humanity. We climb the hill not as those without hope but rather with our eyes fixed on the Cross of Christ. How does that great old hymn put it? “In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o’er the wrecks of time; All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime. When the woes of life o’er-take me, Hopes deceive, and fears annoy, Never shall the cross forsake me. Lo! It glows with peace and joy." (The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 295, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” John Bowring, 1825)