The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 4/17/03
Text: Mark 14:17-26
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

I have always been a "fan" of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln may well have been our greatest President. He is one of those who fall into the class that Shakespeare described as having "greatness thrust upon them," and those people appeal to me...the folks who take the lemons life hands them and do everything in their power to turn them into lemonade. Lincoln came to national leadership in a time of awful turmoil and, against all odds and virtually single-handedly, saved this union. He was an amazing man, a GREAT man.

By any measure Lincoln's death was a tragedy. Not just because of the way he died, but when. The disastrous war was just concluded. A time of national reconciliation was at hand. The President deserved a chance to enjoy the fruit of his painful labor. But John Wilkes Booth struck him down. It was so unfair. But, as we all know, tragedy is always unfair.

Think of someone else cut down by that bullet. His name was Edwin. No, the bullet did not go through Lincoln's body and hit this innocent bystander...but it may as well have. You see, Edwin's last name was Booth, John's older brother. Edwin was one of the best known actors of his time. He had made his debut on stage at age fifteen playing Tressel to his father's Richard III. Within a few years he was playing the lead in Shakespearian tragedies throughout the United States and Europe. He was the Olivier of his day - in a class by himself. But then that night at Ford's Theatre came along, and forever after, Edwin Booth became known as simply the brother of the President's assassin. How unfair!

There is a bizarre twist to Edwin Booth's story that underscores just how unfair life can be. Edwin carried with him a letter from the Chief Secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant thanking him for an act of bravery. It seems that while waiting for a train one day at Jersey City, a coach he was about to board lurched forward. He whirled and saw a young boy who had slipped from the edge of the platform. Booth linked his leg around the railing, grabbed the lad by the collar and pulled him to safety. He had no idea who the young fellow was, but the boy recognized the famous actor. A few days later, Edwin received a letter of thanks for saving the life of...Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of his brother's future victim.(1) How unfair can life be?

What did Edwin Booth do to deserve being dealt a hand like that? Obviously, NOTHING! But he was incredibly wounded by his brother's bullet none the less. Unfair!

Stories like that are not unique, of course. What did the man who lost his job of twenty years because the plant was being moved to Mexico do to deserve that? What did the family in Baghdad subjected to Saddam's atrocities and then the bombs of the Coalition do to deserve that? What did the Palestinian teenager who was born in a refugee camp and has lived his whole life there do to deserve that? What did the little child who is being placed in a foster home because parents can no longer provide care do to deserve that? Take a Thursday, go downstairs to the Sharing Place, talk with the folks coming in for a meal, and you could hear similar stories over and over again. Life is unfair. But in our heart of hearts, we think it ought NOT to be. Bad things like that should never happen to people.

When we think about it, we wonder why God could allow it. Perhaps God is unfair. No, we know better than that. An unfair God would never have sent us Jesus.

But life is surely unfair. And there is no place to see that more plainly than Calvary. "The Cross exposed the world for what it really is...a breeding ground for violence, hatred, and injustice. Good Friday demolishes the instinctive belief that life is supposed to be fair. And the only reason we can call it GOOD Friday is because we know what happens on Sunday."(2)

Frankly, it often seems that life is full of Saturdays. The injustice and unfairness of Friday is still all around us. But the deliverance of the resurrection has not yet come. We know it will, but in the meantime, it is still Saturday.

But Friday is not all that precedes Saturday, of course. There is Thursday...Maundy Thursday...the night that Jesus made plain to his disciples that he would always be with them...and us...keeping us going, nourishing us with his presence. The message is that, unfair as life really is, as many times as we might feel as though we are as unjustly put upon as an Edwin Booth, as many Saturdays as we might face, we do not face them alone. The Son of God himself is with us, his body, his blood. He himself sustains us through those dark and unfair valleys, a life full of Saturdays.

In a moment, we will join the Son of God at his table, welcomed by outstretched arms, served by hands that tomorrow will feel the pain of nails driving through them. With 20/20 hindsight, we know what is coming. On his lips are more than words of welcome; they offer a herald of hope. They say, "Yes, today is Thursday, and tomorrow is the awful Friday, and life seems to be nothing but Saturdays. But praise God, Sunday is coming." And we know what happens then.


1. Paul Aurandt, Destiny: from Paul Harvey's, The Rest of the Story (New York: Bantam Books, 1983) quoted in Pastor's Professional Research Service, April, 1988

2. Philip Yancey, "Saturday Seven Days a Week," Christianity Today, 3/18/88, p. 64

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