Sermons from the East End

The first warm day of spring brings with it the promise of ice cream and the park. Yet, it was on such a day that a simple outing with Rev. Bri-anne and her children transformed into an unexpected lesson on life, loss, and how sometimes, not even Mama can make things better.

Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11
Jesus Enters Jerusalem
From "The Lockdown Brothers"

Scripture: Matthew 26:1-5
The Plot to Kill Jesus

Music: Kiss it Better by Bri-anne Swan

Related Links:

"Once Upon a Time, There Was a Dead Raccoon"


East End United Regional Minsitry is an Affirming (🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️ positive) community of faith, part of the United Church of Canada in Toronto.

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Creators & Guests

Rev. Bri-anne Swan
Minister at East End United Regional Ministry, United Church of Canada

What is Sermons from the East End?

Your weekly feed of sermons/reflections from Rev. Bri-anne Swan and East End United Regional Ministry, an affirming (2SLGBTQIA+ positive) and progressive Christian community in Toronto, part of the United Church of Canada.

I'm the Rev. Bri-anne and this is Sermons from the East End for Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Hello and welcome to this week's episode.

Like most Catholic and Protestant Christians, East End United celebrated Palm Sunday a couple of days ago. Jesus arrived in our sanctuary to the waving of purple cloth and rainbow ribbons. We walked in a parade. And we wondered…we wondered about how a week that started as a celebration could turn…well…could turn so very wrong.



Matthew 21:1-11

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”


Matthew 26:1-5

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”


Our first reading, is a vintage recording from the very first Lockdown Brothers Video ever. Lockdown Brothers was the series of Bible Shorts my kids and I made when we were socially distancing during the pandemic. That recording is from Spring of 2020…when we thought the kids were only going to be out of school for a few extra weeks after March Break. When I look back at those videos now I can’t help wondering…”Were my kids ever so tiny?”

We are a people of story, and perhaps today, of all days, Palm Sunday, where we hear about Jesus entering Jerusalem to shouts of joy and hope, the power of our stories becomes very clear.

But, before we get into THAT story, first, I need to tell you this story. It’s a story that begins on the very first nice day of spring…when my kids…were even tinier. Isaiah was three and Simon, was one.

It was a beautiful day. A stunning day. Winter was over and It was time to celebrate. So, I piled both kids into our double stroller and set out for a long walk towards the lake in search of ice cream. These were the kind of excursions we lived for: ice cream and time at the park.

A few blocks from our house, we started to come across something large, fuzzy, and very, very still. As we got closer, I realized it was a raccoon—and it was very dead.

I am always sad when I see dead animals on the side of the road and had I been walking by myself, I would have probably done something. Called the City to have them come and remove it. Find something to move the poor thing to a place with less foot traffic.

But I wasn’t alone, and so my first instinct was to turn around, or to cross the road, so Isaiah and Simon didn’t have to see the carnage.

But before I could do that, I heard Isaiah’s sweet little voice speak up, “Look Mama! That raccoon is sleeping on the sidewalk! Shhh! Don’t wake her up!”

Now, it was fairly obvious that this raccoon had met...a violent end. And I could have left it. I could have just said, “Yup. Funny that!” and went on with our day. But I thought about our old man cat, who probably only had a few years left with us. I thought of my father who had only recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer and we were waiting to hear about his prognosis. And then I thought perhaps having a conversation about a dead raccoon would be the gentlest entry into a conversation about loss I could possibly hope to have. Better a dead raccoon than our beloved family pet, or grandparent.

And so, I took a deep breath:
“Isaiah, honey. That raccoon is not sleeping. That raccoon is dead.”

Isaiah was quiet for a moment pondering this. He had watched movies before where characters died. I mean, every single Disney movie seems to feature an orphan or two. But for Isaiah, the solution to all of this was really quite simple:

“Kiss her better.”

“Pardon me?”

“Just kiss her better, Mama. Like you do with me.”

And staring at that bleeding, broken raccoon, my heart cracked right then and there. Because of course, no matter how powerful and how healing my kisses are, I cannot fix a dead raccoon.

“Honey, that raccoon is dead. And dead is forever.” And then we went over what happens when people and animals die; their heart stops beating, their lungs stop breathing, and their body stops moving. Isaiah was concerned. Together we felt his heart, his lungs and his body. He did a little dance. We assured ourselves that he was, indeed, alive. And then we did the same with me. This was all developmentally appropriate stuff, but it wasn’t lost on me how a celebration of ice cream on the beach had suddenly shifted to something far deeper…

And he still didn’t understand why I wouldn’t kiss the raccoon. Why I wouldn’t at least try...

I finally had to tell him that Mama’s kisses can’t fix everything. Mama’s kisses can’t fix dead.

And that I think was the hardest part of the whole scene. Understanding that dead is forever is one thing. Suddenly being confronted that there are just some things Mama can’t fix on her own—that is where the heartbreak lived.

So here we are. We started our week with a celebration. We started with a parade and singing, Stephen Schwartz and cloths for royalty. Jesus enters Jerusalem like a rock star. And, possibly, he’s entering Jerusalem at the same time Pilate is returning to the city to his own parade. However, if Pilate is also in town, his parade is a demonstration of might. Of Imperial strength. Jesus enters with the hopes and dreams of his people paving the path before him.

But a lot of things will happen over the next few days...

Judas will betray his friend.

The religious elite—some of whom have actually been trying to protect Jesus—will become nervous.

Jesus, and the crowds who surround him, will become too dangerous.

And so, in keeping with the circumstances, context, and time, the end result—is torture and execution at the hands of the Roman state. A bleeding and broken man, hanging from a cross. The cross. It is the crux of our story and Christians have spent almost 2000 years trying to work out the meaning of it all.

Isaiah spent months—literally MONTHS—working out his feelings about this dead raccoon experience. One day, we went to the Ashdale Library and he asked if he could take home a book about raccoons. We couldn’t find any, so we asked the library worker for help. When she found a book, Isaiah looked at it and asked, “is this a book about alive raccoons?” and when the library worker looked puzzled he went on, “Because I really need a book about dead raccoons.” So deep and honest was his three-year-old desire to make sense of what seemed completely outside his conceptual framework. How is it possible that my Mama, who has always made everything better with a hug, or a kiss, or a tickle, cannot fix this raccoon?

How is it possible that a God whose Chosen People are aching, can send their Anointed One not to vanquish, but to a brutal and shameful death?

We’ve reflected on a lot over these past six weeks of Lent…reflected on Journeys of Change. We’ve created this communal art piece together, the paint and the images resonating with pieces of us. We started with a blank canvas…and now we have….this. A visual map and record of the season. And now we are coming to the end… Holy Week.

In preparation for this this week, I started to go through the many books in my house and have taken a count of the different interpretations of what this scandalous end means. There are just too many different understandings to name here. Just so many books. Books written by authors who believe that the world, and everybody in it, was so bad, that God needed somebody to die in order to pay for it all. Books by authors who believe that we had here a man, with so much love and truth to impart, that those in power felt threatened—and so they killed him. With two ministers sharing one house and more than a few retiring clergy friends, we have rather a lot of books. More books than we have shelf space for. So many authors writing so many books, trying to make sense of the death of this one man.

But then I found this book:

It starts out, “Once upon a time, there was a dead raccoon…”

And I was reminded of that conversation 9 years ago, and how much Isaiah had to work through, and how part of working it out for him was writing about it. He wrote an entire series of stories trying to make sense of the death of this one raccoon. Before I sang him a lullaby at night, together we would make up stories about raccoons. Sometimes they were alive. Sometimes they weren’t.

Because the whole thing moved him. The raccoon was killed. She didn’t do anything wrong. But the world killed her anyway. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It must have really hurt. And Mama couldn't make it better. So, he wrote about it, to make sense of it. The Gospel According to Isaiah.

Now, I’m willing to wager that most you know this is not where our story ends. And I promise next week’s sermon will not be titled “ROADKILL AND THE RESURRECTION”.

But this IS where we leave things today. Jesus doesn’t do anything wrong, and the world kills him anyway. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It must have really hurt. And his Mama, holy or otherwise, can’t make it better. Not in the way his friends want or expect.



Thank you for listening to this week’s sermon. We’ll be back next week, Easter Sunday, journeying with Mary as she discovers and empty tomb…and risks the daring hope that maybe, just maybe…everything is okay.

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Until next time, take care of yourselves and eachother.