Our next door neighbors in Paragould were Iva and Harold Hicks. Mr. and Mrs. Hicks never had children of their own, and they served as a kind of third set of grandparents for the four Thompson kids. When my older brother Robert and I decided, at ages seven and five, to run away from home with suitcases full of toys and cookies, it was Mr. and Mrs. Hicks who indulgently heard our litany of complaints against our mother, and who then convinced us to run back into mom’s arms by innocently asking what we planned to eat when the cookies ran out.
We began our service this morning according to a Christian custom that goes back at least as far as 381 A.D. It was in that year that the pilgrim Egeria traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter. She arrived a week early, and as she approached the city she witnessed a group of people processing down into the city from the Mount of Olives. The crowd waved palm branches as they chanted, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” These early Christians represented the people who crowded the road as Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.
“Hell,” says Pastor Rob Bell, “is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story.”[i]
Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story. That is, surely, a different way to think about the concept. As Episcopalians, we usually don’t think about it much at all. Not a lot of hell talk comes from Episcopal pulpits. On the rare occasion that we do consider hell, we think of it as a mythological geographic location—somewhere down there, beneath the floorboards, like the molten river in Tolkien’s Mordor, where a gargoyle-like Satan sits atop a grotesque throne. Or, we apply the name to violent places on this plane of existence: Hell is Somalia in the 1990s, or tsunami-ravaged Thailand.