In the year 1863 Hannah began the voyage of a lifetime. Married only a few years and with two small children, William about 3 and Harriet an infant, Hannah left Manchester, England for the United States, leaving her husband Jonathon behind. Hannah and Jonathon were married in 1857 in the Cathedral in Manchester, and now a mere six years later she was setting off on her own, with two children in tow, and third on the way.
Hannah sailed from England to New York City on a ship called the Antarctic, leaving Liverpool on May 23, 1863. It was an old ship with many leaks, requiring the sailors to spend several hours each day bailing water. The drinking water was bad and had to be boiled before consumption. Small pox broke out. Seven passengers died on the seven week journey from Liverpool to New York, one of them being the baby Harriet, Hannah’s infant daughter.
Immediately upon her arrival in NYC Hannah, now six months pregnant, and her young son, departed for Nebraska. The Civil War was raging in the US and travel was dangerous. The envoy traveled by train and boat through New England, across the Niagara Bridge, to Chicago. From Chicago they traveled by cattle car and then steamer to Nebraska. From there, in her 7th and 8th months of pregnancy, Hannah joined a wagon train to Salt Lake City. It is likely that she walked the entire way, carrying her son, while the wagon hauled their few belongings.
I first heard Hannah’s story following my mother’s death in 2004. Among her belongings I found a book of our family genealogy, and in it Hannah’s story. I think Hannah’s story parallels my own life, but in reverse.
Hannah left the Church of England to join the Mormon Church. I left the Mormon Church to join the Episcopal Church, well, not counting the sixteen year hiatus in between. I too have traveled across this great country for my church, although I drove in car. I have a renewed sense of admiration for her having made this drive. It took me two days to get here from Illinois, it took her five weeks to walk from Nebraska to Utah.
If she and I could talk, what stories would we share?
I would tell her that her son Jacob married Katie and that their son Roland married Martha. Roland and Martha were my great grandparents whom I knew well and loved deeply. Their son was my grandfather, my mother’s dad. Jacob and Katie, Roland and Martha, my grandfather and my mother are all buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetary, on the mountains over looking the valley.
I remember the family home in Idaho, built by Jacob and Katie. In this home I visited Roland and Martha, ate fresh-picked strawberries for breakfast, and played in my great grandmothers sewing room, the turret room.
Family stories are important; they remind us of who we are and where we’ve come from.
On this Palm Sunday we hear the story of Jesus, his entry into Jerusalem, and his final days on earth. It is a familiar story; we hear it every year at the beginning of Holy Week. It is a story that builds on our salvation history, what God was doing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is our family story, the family story of who we are as a Christian people. But, even as it is familiar, this story can offer us new insight. Each year, as we hear this story, we are marking an ending and a beginning. Scripture reminds us that Jesus points us toward the end of an old way of life and toward a new way. The fact is new things are happening to us and to the world around us all the time; we are not the same people we were a year ago. What is important is how we see our faith story in and through these new things.
Maybe we hear the grief in the passion story in a way we never have before. The grief Jesus expresses as he waits for his final hour. Maybe we hear the fear in the disciple’s voices as they deny Jesus and run away? Maybe we hear the sorrow in Mary’s voice as she prays for her son? Maybe we hear the anger in the voices of the dissenting crowd who want to blame Jesus for all that has gone wrong. Maybe we hear the hope Jesus hints at even as he faces into an uncertain tomorrow.
Regardless, there is always something new in this familiar story, something waiting for us to hear it.
This year, one of the new things we will hear is our own story and the way it is taking a new turn. New as we begin our journey together as parish and priest. As the next weeks and months unfold I hope to hear your stories. I hope to hear where your lives have taken you, the paths you have traveled, the hopes and dreams you still have for this parish and your life in it. I invite you to call me for coffee or tea, to lunch or for dinner. I want to spend time with you and hear your stories.
It is in the sharing of our stories that we build community. It is in the way we know and love one another that we get a glimpse of how God loves us. We trust that what God was doing, and continues to do in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, will show us the way to love. Showing us how to love God, love self, and love others. Show us how to love in times of sorrow and times of joy. Sharing our stories builds on this. Living together as a faith community and creating new stories builds on this. We add our story to the stories of the past. The stories we create now will become stories of the future.
Today begins our journey to the cross. Together we will walk through celebrations of bread and wine, through human weakness and denial, through the brokenness of this world, through the death of God’s son, and into new life. As we celebrate the profound love God offers us in this, the holiest of weeks, let us also celebrate our new life together and the stories we will create.