Welcome to Issue #33 of Biblia Luna, the weekly newsletter about the intersection of mental illness and faith.
Crazy Lectionary: Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
April 2, 2023 is a unique day in the church year. In the Revised Common Lectionary, it is considered two days at once: Palm Sunday and Sunday of the Passion. The readings today are interesting, split into two: the Liturgy of the Palms, and the Liturgy of the Passion. In many churches, worship will open with one gospel, the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Just a few minutes later, another gospel will be read, the long and difficult Passion reading, which this year includes two entire chapters of Matthew.
It’s like the very liturgy today has multiple personality disorder, moving from the joy and excitement of Palm Sunday into the pain and sorrow of the Passion. And I wonder if we see something like that in the crowd, the crowd who appears in both of these gospel readings.
The crowd in the Liturgy of the Palms, jumping for joy and laying down palm branches for the advent of the king. The crowd in the Liturgy of the Passion, just five days later, calling for Barabbas to be released so that this same king might be put to death. And there was also the crowd that came by night with their clubs and swords to arrest Jesus. How could the crowd turn so quickly? How could they cry out in praise one day, and just a few days later, cry out for murder?
Now, of course, there is the possibility that these are different people. Matthew doesn’t claim that these crowds are made of the same folks. But what if they are the same? What kind of person could change their mind so quickly? Could turn on someone so quickly?
I’m reminded a little bit of borderline personality disorder (BPD). I want to be very careful how I talk about this disorder, because I don’t mean to imply that someone with BPD is a time-bomb who will turn on you. That’s not the case. But it can be challenging to be in a relationship with someone with untreated BPD, because from the outside they can seem unpredictable, fickle, and unreliable.
Borderline personality disorder is characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. They feel emotions incredibly strongly, and they last longer than they would for the average person. Symptoms include impulsive behavior; distorted and unstable self-image; chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness; and unstable and intense emotions, like anger, irritability, or sadness. Many people with BPD experience a strong fear of abandonment, worry that people will leave them. Relationships with other people can be extremely intense, beginning with a powerful attachment, almost an obsession, with another person. But this attachment can flip quickly to a very negative feeling, an intense desire to push the other person away. These feelings can alternate, making relationships very difficult.
As hard as it can be to live with someone with BPD, I can only imagine that it’s many times harder to be that person, living with emotions you can’t seem to control. Living each moment not knowing what will come out of your brain the next minute. Where can you find peace? Where can you find something to rely on? You fear abandonment so much; where can you find the trust that you won’t be left alone?
There are treatment options available for people with BPD. I’ve read that dialectical behavioral therapy can be especially effective. And while pursuing treatment, I wonder if someone with BPD might find some hope in the story of the Passion.
Because in the story of the Passion, we see someone who never leaves people behind. Someone who is himself abandoned and alone, but who never turns away from what he needs to do. Never turns away from those he is saving. Someone who even prayed for those who were crucifying him, prayed for their forgiveness. And even at the end of this story, when it seems Jesus has abandoned us through his death…that is not the end of the story.
No matter who you relate to in the story of Palms & Passion, whether the joyous Hosanna Choir in the beginning or the belligerent Crucify Him chorus at the end; whether you’re Judas or Peter or Mary Magdalene or someone else; Jesus never leaves you. Jesus always abides with you, even to death, and beyond.
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Another podcast interview was just released! Finding My Voice is a podcast that “dives into mental health, faith, relationships, platonic and romantic and just our journey on this Earth as human beings.” I had a great conversation with Keena, and I encourage you to check it out here. (Or wherever you get your podcasts.)
If you’d like to check out any of my past interviews (don’t miss the one on the No Good podcast), you can click here for my whole back catalog.
A Deathly (and Lively?) Sermon
Today I preached a sermon on the story of the raising of Lazarus, and I spent a significant amount of time focusing on the reality of death (both literal death and all the deaths we experience throughout our life). It was a heavy sermon, but hopefully with a powerful message of good news that where Jesus is is precisely at the place of death, transforming that death into life. Not everyone likes this kind of sermon — it can be uncomfortable and feel too dark for some — but to me, this is the most important and meaningful message there is. The darkness is real, but hope is even more real. If you’re interested, you can read the sermon here, or watch it here.
O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and grant to your children who suffer with mental illnesses the help of your power, that their sickness may be turned into health, and our concern into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
(from NAMI FaithNet)
Hopeful and comforting words for all, especially for those who feel abandoned.