Easter 6A. 25 May 2014.
Lately, I have been thinking about this time of the year and the liturgical season we know as Easter. Even people who come to church sometimes forget that Easter is not just one Sunday, but fifty days. And though we have the Paschal candle in place and white on the Altar, it might still be difficult to appreciate the uniqueness of this season. I think I'm still trying to understand it, myself, really.
I have a prayer book that I mentioned last week that was written to help clergy to pray in private, and one of the instructions is to pray for the special graces of the season of the church you are in. With Eater, "Joy" certainly comes to mind. Thanksgiving for the resurrection, and the holy hope that it inspires. Renewal, hope.
I think, too, there is a sense of tenderness to this season. Tender blossoms on trees, tender grass newly sprung from a winter-weary earth. Beyond the triumphant strains of the Church's liturgy and music come the tender words of Jesus in the farewell discourses in John's Gospel, which we read today. In some sense, they signal a change in the air as we head toward the Ascension and Pentecost.
Pentecost, of course, is the end of what is known as Sacred Time—the Seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. They mark—in some sense—the life of our Lord on earth.
Ordinary time is ordered time—the green season—a time of growth and discovery of what the Christian life is all about. So as we draw Easter to a close, we draw closer to the Ascension, when Jesus is lifted into heaven, and that is not really easy to celebrate.
It's easier to celebrate all of the other life-events. The baby is born in the bleak, mid-winter. We gather together in the stable amidst the sawdust and the strangely wonderful smell of animals. There is the baby. A new family, but more than that. Wonderful.
He grows up, has his Baptism. And then the call of the disciples, and the teachings and parables. It's wonderful. It's hard to watch the events leading up to and including his death, but then he is raised, and the church goes wild. Fifty days of joy and peace, and gratitude…but we will still need to say good bye. Maybe it would be easier not to say goodbye?
It's hard to say goodbye. The conversation reaches a point when thing start to dwindle down. The clock ticks later in the evening. The dinner guests have to go. The husband points at his watch, and looks meaningfully at his wife. And the excuses start to be made, "It's an early morning tomorrow." "This has been wonderful; it's a shame we couldn't stay longer." "You must come to see us." "We must do this again."
And then they move out to the car, slowly, the host family following behind. "Nice car?" "You think so?" "Yes, I wish I had one like this." "It's not bad. Pretty good mileage."
"That's a lovely skirt." "This thing?" "Yes." "Peebles!" "No." "Really…it's just their basic thing." "Well, maybe they'll have my size."
It's hard to say good bye. Its awkward. It's so much better to let the grownups do it, while we pretend we're children back in the house asleep. We fell asleep listening to the grownups talk about the world and politics and local news and recipes. We fell asleep knowing that the guests would go home. We said our goodbyes earlier in the evening, wearing our jammies and licking our lips from the toothpaste.
It's hard to say goodbye. Is that why it's hard to celebrate the Ascension?
We read today from John 14. Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you."
John gives us these very tender words from Jesus. And like all of John's Gospel, they are pregnant with meaning. They contain some of the church's first theology about how the Father, Son and Spirit are related to each other, and how, in Jesus, they relate to us. "You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."
In John there is so much I in you, you in me, you in them, we in them, us and we being one with me and you--all being one together. To try to tease out the various shades of meaning behind each part of that could take a long time. It seems to me that John is trying to say poetically that the Father, Son, and Spirit are inseparable, and that Jesus has extended—lovingly extended—that inseparability to us.
But the verse that really gets to me is verse 18, "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you." On the surface of it, the meaning is quite simple: I won't go away forever, I will be coming back to you.
But that's not quite how he said it. He said, "I will not leave you orphaned." If you were reading this in the King James Version, it would say, "I will not leave you comfortless." Terrible translation. Understand that I am one of the best friends the King James Version ever had. I love the King James Version, but the word is ορφανούς. Orphans.
There is an ache in that word choice. It indicates Jesus' understanding of how we would feel after he ascended into heaven. But may also indicate the level of devotion and dependence the disciples had—such that Jesus' departure would be considered equivalent to the death of a parent. Jesus has moved beyond friend. I might even say that he has moved beyond "Lord."
It's a relationship of such profound intimacy that for it to end will bring to mind the child crying out for the arms of a mother, or of a daddy.
And so the Lord says, "I will not leave you orphaned" It won't feel that way. "The world will not see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live."
Remember that "sight" in John's Gospel is not about physical sight. It's almost always a metaphor for spiritual sight. You will see Jesus, even if you don't see Jesus.
And it may be that you and I occasionally lose that spiritual sight. The Lord knows that it's easy to do. Darkness comes in many forms. It comes when we are too rushed, too frazzled. It comes when we are overwhelmed with pain and grief. It can come at times of confusion, wondering what path we should take, or what we should decide when there is no clear choice.
Darkness comes like clouds gathering on a beautiful spring day. "Wasn't it just sunny outside? What happened?" And it starts to rain, and we thought it was going to shine. It changes our plans; it disrupts our schedules; and we are thrown off our game.
But you will see Jesus and know that he is with you when you allow yourself to be loved by him. As simple as that thought is, it can feel like one of the hardest things to do, because we know ourselves right down to the toe nails. We have a hard time accepting love.
Some years ago I read a book about happiness, and one of the topics was self-criticism. And it said that we must always be careful not to be too self-critical, because we know ourselves better than anyone, so when we take a swing at ourselves, it's going to do some damage.
We like hearing that God is love, and we like that the Church believes that God loves us, but trusting in that… Believing that… Living from that place can be awkward. We don't feel worthy of it. Or we don't trust it.
So Jesus says, "If you love me," and we do… "If you love me, keep my commandments, and I will ask the Father, and he will give you a companion, which is the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. He will abide with you, and he will be in you."
The Spirit is the presence of the living God for you and for the Church. It rests inside of you—it makes a home inside of you—to confirm God's love.
Just begin by praying, very simply, "Lord, I love you, and I believe that you love me." Let the words sink into your soul, day by day. "Lord, I love you, and I believe you love me."
After awhile you will see him in you; and you will see him in other people. And you will know that you have not been left orphaned—that you are not alone. You are never alone. You are a beloved child of God.
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