EASTER VI (ROGATE), MAY 16, 2004
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe. (NIV)
HUGGING IN THE DARK HALLWAYS OF LIFE
Taking care of the moment .
Among the scariest times in life are those moments where you’re all alone and you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You’re stranded in some obscure corridor of a little-known city with a broken-down car. Your spouse has just died and the future looks entirely bleak. You’ve lost you’re job and you have no idea what marketable skills you have. There is a feeling of abandonment, despair, of being orphaned and alone. “What’s to become of me?” is the question we’ve often felt murmuring on our lips.
Of course, some turn such bleak moments into payoffs of a bizarre order. All of us know the Home Alone movies in which McCauley Caulkin turned his character’s uncertainty about the future into resounding victory over burglars who attack his home at Christmas when his parents and family have flown off to Paris, forgetting him-- leaving him behind.
1 for over 50 weeks. LaHaye’s bizarre theme, rooted in millenial theology, results from billions having been left behind on earth to do battle with the Anti-Christ, after millions have been raptured out of their cars, houses, planes and offices to spend a thousand years in glory. A payoff for the raptured ones, but uncertain times ahead for those left behind! Hardly a message of hope!
Apart from such Hollywood fantasies, however, there are very real, truly human, moments when we find ourselves struggling to make sense of our destiny. How do we take care of ourselves in such moments? Who takes of us? Today’s Gospel lesson places such a question on the disciples’ lips. What Jesus says to them, and the context of caring which he provides for them and for all of us who read these words millenia later, is instructive. Here we learn that there is never any uncertainty for those left behind because our God lets us know, now already, that love tolerates no orphans.
All of the post-Easter Gospel lessons, in all three consecutive lectionary years of the Revised Common Lectionary, are taken from the Gospel according to John. Only here one finds touching moments between teacher and disciples as they seek to prepare for a future after Jesus is gone. One after another, beginning in Chapter 13, the disciples ask what’s to become of them. First Peter, then Thomas, Philip, and Judas. Judas-- and his question introduces today’s text-- wants to know why Jesus is revealing himself just to the disciples and not to the whole world? How did we get lucky, Judas wonders? And from what we know about Judas, he probably wonders more. “Why can’t this enterprise to change the world go farther? We were ready to defend and lead with Jesus, when the takeover comes, when we enter into power. But no, he’s calling a halt to the whole thing, leaving us who gave up everything for him, and ‘going to his Father.’ What sense does all this make?”
The Johannine response to Judas provides several words of affirmation for this moment of confusion and abandonment: An assurance of continuing presence, a gift to carry wherever they go, and a destination to long for. Much of it is admittedly mystical, but if it deals with divinity, then our sights will naturally be lifted above our humanity. First, he takes the disciples back to the earliest words in John’s Gospel to help them appreciate God continuing presence: “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.” (NIV) God came to be known to us in the words and actions of Jesus in whose extravagant love for humans the true nature of God was revealed. However, when it is no longer possible to see Jesus acting out God’s love in word and deed, God’s presence remains with us in Word and Sacrament. In the words of God’s law and gospel proclaimed to us and acted out upon us sacramentally, we know ourselves to be affirmed just as surely as if Jesus still walked among us. In John’s words, the Father comes to us and makes his home among us in ways we can understand, in his words and actions of judgment and grace. We are never alone.
Secondly, John has Jesus share a gift to accompany the disciples wherever they go. He gives them a good-bye greeting which they can continue to use, wherever they are, reminding themselves of his love. Don’t be troubled, don’t be afraid, Jesus says. Let this word hold us together: Shalom. My “shalom” is different, however, he tells them. In the world, people can greet you as you come and go, but the greeting I ask you to use brings with it the understanding that peace and wholeness is not something which just anyone can give. It comes from a relationship with me, the one who has given you acceptance and forgiveness in God’s eyes. From this perspective you are whole, complete, accepted, forever. When you say “Shalom” to one another, when you use this gift, remember who you are. God’s “forever people.” This is what John says Jesus was telling them.
Finally, John tells us that Jesus says there is a destination in this spiritual universe in which all live. There is not only this moment with all of its fear or uncertainty. There is the presence of God, the realm of the righteous, the place prepared for you. Don’t begrudge my going there, Jesus tells the disciples, because that is greater than this and better than this. It is also your destiny. I’m going to be where the heart and center of the universe finds its origin, meaning and goal, he tells them. Keep your eyes fixed on this; otherwise you have only a dead-end street!
All of the words in this context are meant to be comforting, supportive, affirming. He’s telling the disciples before he leaves them so they will understand it all when he’s gone.
We take time to affirm each other
You and I live rather confidently most of the time. We can hold down jobs, complete our chores or school work satisfactorily, and care for people in our intimate families with some degree of sensitivity. Occasionally, however, things fall apart. Sometimes they fall apart physically. Our health fails, a job loss keeps money from going into the bank account, or the air-conditioner or roof fails and can demand more money than we have in savings. We sit down and wonder who’s going to take care of us. I remember my grandmother voicing that very question at the age of 86 when she discovered she needed gall bladder surgery. Sometimes the needs are greater than we can supply and we feel alone in the midst of family and friends.
Sometimes, things fall apart psychically and spiritually. A spouse or a parent dies and nothing has yet been said about what happens when they’re gone. No words of affirmation, of caring have been offered to us before it happens so we’ll know what to make of it when it takes place. When my mother died, it happened in another state from where I was living, and I really never made sense of the experience. My father died slowly in my presence, and he had words to share before he left. He wanted me to know that the CDs were in the lockbox! I never made sense of that either. We spend too much time worrying about the material things and too little time providing for those who are left behind by reminding them that we love them, that their place in our hearts and lives has been the most meaningful gift to us in life, and that they will carry forever forward a gift of God’s Shalom, the forgiveness and wholeness with which we have lived, and passed on to them.
Sometimes, things fall apart relationally. Things have been said and done in anger which need to be set to rights. Judgments have been made which may have been right but which left people feeling outside, alone, orphaned. One of the more poignant moments of my life happened when our eight year old son did something which hurt my wife and me very much. What is was is not important, except to say that in the scheme of world events, it was insignificant. I then said very critical and judgmental things to my son, lifting up his guilt for all in the family to see, guilt which no one could really have questioned. Finally, from the recesses of the dark hallway at the top of the stairs I heard him sobbing, “Isn’t anybody going to hug me?” It took only a few seconds of reflection and I was with him in the dark, holding him and hugging him with all the wordless affirmation I could muster. In that moment, the scaffolds of righteous indignation and justice collapsed into a pit at the foot of the stairs and the prodigal was restored, the orphaned found his home.
When the moment takes care of itself
There is something profoundly human in this text in which Jesus promises God’s presence in Word and Sacraments, shares his gift of Shalom and points us to the goal to which all of us are called. There is no question that we are little different from the disciples of yore in feeling at times abandoned or orphaned in life. “What is to become of us?” is a very human question. As we in the Christian community seek to pass on Jesus’ compassionate concern for those often left behind with doubts, questions and fears, we need to remember to share with our children and our friends, here already, now already, before it happens, what they need to know about our love for them and our faith in God. We need to find the words and the times to say the things which cannot be left unsaid. We cannot assume that our children and our friends somehow always knew that we loved them. We dare not assume that those who mean the most to us somehow guessed, when the moment came, that it was God’s love which motivated us in life—and gave us courage to go one when all seemed lost. Just as Jesus did, before the moment came, we need to take the time and find the place to say the words of affirmation, comfort, and faith.
The reason we need to find the words and the time has nothing to do with us. It has to do with those who sometimes feel left behind. Or whom we will one day leave behind. It has to do with the moment when they feel abandoned, orphaned, and alone. When that moment comes, if we have learned to hug in the dark hallways of life, the moment will take care of itself. Love knows no orphans. God’s affirmation lives on through us and those we have loved.
“Alleluia! Not as orphans, are we left in sorrow now;
Prof. Dr. Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus