This is a new weekly email that will continue through our time apart (currently scheduled for early May). There are no announcements in this email, only a spiritual message from Father Mike. The Epistle Express will arrive on Thursday as usual.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen.
The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia.
We pray for those who preach, and those who hear God’s Word today.
Gracious God, help me to preach in a way that is good news to persons who are poor, weak, widowed, orphaned and all those who are most vulnerable.
Help me to preach in a way that honors and respects those who suffer and die today for the Gospel. Help me to preach in a way that seeks not my glory but yours. Not the growth of this Church, but the spread of your kingdom. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Too say that the last two months have disrupted our lives would be an understatement. Everything has changed. The way we travel, the way we teach, the way we meet, the way we work, the way we shop. Yes, even the way we worship has been disrupted. Everything has changed. These disruptions will continue for the foreseeable future.
Home life and schedules have been disrupted as well. The schedule we follow today is not at all like the schedule we followed in February.
In our home one of the days most disrupted has been our Sunday. Sunday has always been one of Linda’s favorite days of the week. Typically, I get up early and head to Muskegon for liturgies. Linda sleeps in until 7:00 or so, then after she walks the dog, she comes home and has a few hours for herself. She cleans, she reads, she calls, and she cooks. Sunday is her day to go crazy in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for the week to come. She loves her Sundays. Alone. Quiet. Following her schedule. She loves her Sundays with me out of the house.
Sometimes, I confess, when I return home on Sunday, I see just a bit of disappointment in her eye. A tinge of sadness in her voice as she says. “Are you home, already?”
Linda misses her sabbath Sundays. Her hours in the house alone. Given the current stay at home orders, there is almost never more than an hour or two when she has the house to herself. Sometimes, I wonder if she is thinking about the title of a song: “how can I miss you, when you won’t go away.”
The Sunday Gospel readings for the Easter season follow a certain pattern. Easter, and the two Sundays that follow are resurrection accounts of the appearances of Jesus to the disciples after he rose from the dead. The 4th Sunday of Easter is always a Good Shepherd Gospel from the 10th chapter of John. The last three Sundays of the Easter season are always from the farewell discourse of Jesus, chapters 14-16. That means, dear friends, that over the course of our three year cycle we hear more Gospels from the farewell discourse of Jesus than we do any other Gospel stories. That means dear friends, that most of our Easter season Gospels are about Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure.
This morning, we are near the beginning of that farewell discourse. It is the last supper. Jesus has washed his disciples feet. Judas has left to betray Him. Jesus has just predicted Peter’s denial. Jesus continues. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
I am tempted to respond: Really Jesus? This is your advice? Do you have any suggestions about how we might avoid troubled hearts?
His answer, “Trust me.” Trust me that I am going to a prepare a dwelling place for you. A dwelling place so that where I am, you will be also.
We hear this text read often at funerals don’t we. When we hear it at funerals, we imagine Jesus taking our beloved ones home to share a room with God in heaven. It is an image that inspires us to hope in the face of death.
I would like to suggest however that the dwelling place Jesus is preparing is not only a dwelling place in heaven. Jesus is preparing a dwelling place for us right here on earth, right here in the midst of life in this world. Jesus is preparing a dwelling place in our hearts where the Spirit of God may abide within us. Because he dwells in our hearts, our hearts need not be troubled.
In these chapters of the farewell discourse, Jesus is not speaking so much about where he is going, but rather how he is staying, how he is abiding, how he will continue to dwell with his disciples and with us. He is not leaving. He is staying in a new way.
Thomas asks a question for all of us. We don’t know where you are going. We don’t know what’s coming. How do we get there? Jesus responds with those most powerful words. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I think Jesus is telling us: The way forward, the way ahead, is found by dwelling with me, abiding with me. The way forward is to dwell with me as I will dwell with you. The way forward is discovered as you stay with me.
As these chapters unfold Jesus will reveal the mystery that just as the father dwells in him and he in the father, God will dwell in us and we will dwell in God.
This is the mysterious truth revealed to the disciples at the last supper. This is the mysterious truth revealed to us today.
Instead of saying, how can I miss you if you never go away. Jesus is telling us, you don’t have to miss me, I am not going any place. Jesus farewell discourse is in fact a proclamation that he will continue to dwell, to abide with us forever.
John’s Gospel spends three chapters trying to convey this mystery. And even when the farewell discourse ends, even after three long chapters words can’t capture the glory of this truth. The divine life of God who abides in Jesus now abides in us.
Today another Sunday passes. It has now been over 2 months since we last gathered for Sunday Eucharist. We miss sharing the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But dear friends, in missing the Eucharist perhaps we are being invited to find the presence of Jesus in new ways. Can we find his real presence in creation? Can we find his real presence in the food we share? Can we find his presence in the people we live with, the people we call, the people we pray for. And dear friends, this week, can we find the presence of Jesus, his real presence, dwelling and abiding in our hearts. The farewell discourse of Jesus is a bold proclamation that he has not left at all. He is still with us.
This is not only a message of comfort, it is also a message meant to empower us. Because he is still with us, we will do greater things than he did. Because he dwells with us, we have the courage to confront the violence and hatred of our day. Because he dwells with us, we will have the courage to strive to overcome the racial injustice and economic divisions that are destroying our nation. Because he dwells with us, we have to courage to resist the systemic racism that led to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged on the streets of his hometown. Because he abides with us, we will have the courage to work to heal this good earth. Because he is with us, we have the courage to join Stephen to speak truth to power and offer our lives in service to the Gospel.
Dear friends, we pray for the grace to find his living presence in our world. And then, when we find his presence may may we have the grace to boldly proclaim by word and example this good news in our world.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. He has gone away, and he has never left us. May these words give us comfort and courage.
Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make this journey with us. So, be swift to love. Make haste to be kind.
May we be blessed by the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us. Amen.