At the time, Palm Sunday 3/29/15, this was the first sermon I had written in several years. My depression and it’s medication made it near impossible to prepare and deliver even a homily.
My apologies in advance, as its been over a year, since I last did this. A year since I did anything that I, at least, would consider preaching. Though, I’m told that I used to be rather good at it. I enjoyed the study…I loved the art…all that forming of flow with a lot of alliteration and, girl, I had assonance for days. So bear with me, if I stammer or stutter. Forgive me, if I should be overcome by emotion.
Luke 19: 29-40: 29As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Once upon a midday not so dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, and in no way guilty of plagiarism, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore… I came upon an idea that I’d like to explore. (Aside: While I’m too old to bring myself to call a “pound sign” a “hashtag” for the benefit of some you, I’ll make the effort. Hashtag…he opened with both rhyme and reference. Hashtag, this might be good.) Poetry and plagiarism aside, how about some audience participation? I want to prove empirically that this very evening I am, in fact,…not alone. So with all hearts open and each head bowed, and every eye closed… I’ve done this before and am aware that some of you will peak. In point of fact, I want you to… Now, would every fifth person raise their hand. (Aside: Surely someone is a math major? Statistics? Considers his/her self amongst those who can count to five?) Look around… Thank you. (Hands down)
I. Am. Not. Alone. And it has taken me four long years to say those four words in the house of God. I. Am. Not. Alone. Four years. Four words. Because I, like 1 in 5 Americans, struggle with depression. And it has taken me four years, through family and friends, through three separate hospitalizations. Four, if you count attending a day hospital. Four years and hours upon hours of talk therapy going through three therapists. I’m with my fourth now. Four years of consuming a galaxy of drugs that would rival the diet of any respectable junkie. Four years and so many electroshock treatments later that I’d have to consult my bills to even hazard a guess at their number. Four years. Four words. I am not alone.
At the height of my depression, I found that the xenophobia of others was what muted me most. “If illness is a foreign country, mental illness is a yet more foreign country, one with a special stigma. No one takes pride in visiting this country with its imprecise, ever shifting borders and murky language; its frequent mimicry, as in nightmare parody, of ‘normal’ behavior; its myriad terrifying symptoms that seem, to the healthy, simply ‘all in the head.’ Our common-sense culture can generously accommodate physically ill individuals, but the mentally ill can be suspected of exaggerating, even of imagining, their own problems. Their minds, or brains, must have ‘caused’ their ailments, since we have only the testimony of the afflicted to bear witness to what is ‘ill’ in their lives.” (Joyce Carol Oates) “To not have your suffering recognized is an almost unbearable form of violence.” (Andrei Lankov)
Be it by prayers or prescriptions, one’s reaching the land of recovery and remission is a journey furthered by damning your fear and breaking your silence. I am not alone, for depressives, is the genesis of that journey. “I am not alone” to other depressives sounds like “let there be light.” And it is in the glow of this light that you begin to see that the disease doesn’t define you. It is your strength and courage defines you.
Depression is a blue collar thief in that it doesn’t call in sick and never schedules a vacation. And depression is no stranger to white collar crime. Depression is a thief that concerns himself with robbing a person incrementally of the odds and ends of their self. Depression is a master embezzler as you’ll hardly notice anything is missing until you find yourself completely bankrupt.
In my bankruptcy, I ask you to excuse me from all the palm branches and so much waving. My limbs are not so easily given to waving these days as they have become quite adept at protecting and consoling me. And yes, you’d be right to remind me of the subversive political theater that is the Triumphal Entry. An entry that signals the end of a rule by fear and violence meted out by an Emperor astride his warhorse. Sic semper tyrannis, for now there is an inbreaking of a kingdom ruled by love led by a servant on a colt. Amazing. Please accept my apologies, but I find that I’m just as amazed by my being benzo-free for over a year now. And pardon me, I should have said a savior as some accounts of the entry have the crowd shouting “Hosanna.” “Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang, through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.” God how I wish I could join their chorus. Tonight, to hell with hosannas, I just don’t have it in me. And to me, my silence sounds less sinful. Maybe it is just unfortunate that I was scheduled to preach on this Sunday of all Sundays.
While I would feel guilty leading a refrain of “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” I have no qualms with indulging in a bit of hypocrisy. Thank God I’m still on medical leave because who’d want to listen to a “preacher” given to a “do as I say, not as I do” creed? But, give me one last pardon and listen anyway…
1 in 5 Americans lives with depression. I am not alone. Our number is legion. Life can feel like a constant Good Friday where the sun never seems to set. It just hangs in the sky refusing us even the relief of dusk. We feel forever transfixed on our suffering, unable to say more than “how much worse can it get?” and “will this ever end?” While we note our struggle to shout Hosanna, we are quite comfortable to join the Psalmist and the Savior, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For those of us who reach a point of recovery even remission, while it is no longer Good Friday, Holy Saturday is an uncomfortable experience of pregnancy. While the day could give birth to life after depression, most often we are heard asking, “Will it come back?” So forgive us if we can only see a sealed tomb our spirits too afraid to hope for more.
While “1 in 5” is reason enough to lament, “1 in 5” is also reason enough to rejoice. For if 1 in every 5 persons can only shout “shut-up” that means there are 4 other people to say “Hosanna.” 4 other people able to abide with you even if you were to deny Christ until every cock in creation crowed. 4 other people to hold you even if you weep worse than Mother Mary. 4 other people to stand watch should you search like Judas for a rope and a convenient tree. 4 other people who have made it to Sunday and are no more able to hold their peace than were those first preachers who ran breathless from the empty tomb. 1 in 5 means that somebody has to have made it to Sunday. And your Hosanna is now a loud Hallelujah. And don’t you dare let them stones out do you!
If you know the tune, but can’t manage the words that is ok. Faith is not about singing. Faith is about standing. It is about getting up again and again to stand with the choir. And if you find yourself standing with a soul that is silent…sing out. You sing out. You sing out so I can hear you. You sing out “hosanna” that is “save.” You sing out and point that holy man in our direction. You sing out until we sing with either the choir militant or the choir triumphant. You sing out. You sing out because my other brothers and sisters will hear you and come looking to see what all the commotion is. And never let it be said of you that the stones out did you. You sing out, because we need you. Sing out.
For the one to whom praises were sang that Sunday and this one… “[He] asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. [Christ] challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. [Christ] requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. [Christ] means full immersion in the condition of being human.” (Henri Nouwen)
A year ago, I was certain that my name would comprise the lines of an obituary before it ever again graced the pages of a church bulletin. And even though I stand here even in this moment struggling to believe what I’m saying. Though I may doubt my own words, I am aware that I’m standing and I’m hopeful. I may have doubts as to the nature of God, but less and less do I doubt the presence of God. And to you oddball, outcast disciples of Wesley-Luther… Thank you for singing. Amen.