This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. After nearly 550 days of online church, outdoor church, and masked and physically distanced church, today was to be the day when we were finally able to gather and share hugs and have everything back to normal. With the vaccine coursing through our bodies, we were supposed to be able to get back to the way things were. We’d be having a huge welcome back brunch during coffee hour, and the kids—hopped up on ice cream—would be running down the halls upstairs sounding like dinosaurs to those of us below them. We’d be catching up with friends old and new, and we’d give thanks to God for bringing us through such a difficult time.
Happy Labor Day Weekend!
This holiday began back in the 1880s growing out of the trade union and labor movements. It was designed to celebrate those who worked in the trades and did other sorts of labor—the common man, at the time, and now, of course, includes all types of people—the ones who work primarily hourly wage jobs. It began with parades that would lead to picnic grounds. As people ate simple meals on their blankets and kids ran around playing games, labor leaders would give thanks to the workers.
I’ve encountered it more than once in my life— a parent coming down hard on a child in a public space. With a raised voice, the dad or mom seeks to correct or stop a child from doing some seemingly egregious act. Often it happens at a point of stress—like at a Disney vacation or a day at the beach—and everyone is overly tired, nerves frazzled, tempers short. I was that parent at a London tube stop—or was it Teddy Roosevelt National Park?— I was frustrated myself because things hadn’t gone as I expected and snapped at Olivia and Noah who were just being kids, and I’m sure I snapped at Melissa too who was trying to calm the situation down. Like I said, I’ve encountered it once or twice in my life.
Still more bread.
What started with the familiar story of the Feeding of the 5000 a month ago has become a subsequent four week excursus into Jesus as the bread of life. And, as our visiting priest Sarah Brock said last week, as we’ve gone along these texts sound more and more like a script for a Halloween horror flick rather than something to be read in polite company at church on a Sunday morning. Jesus says unless you chew his flesh and gulp his blood—and in the Greek he is literally that explicit—then you will have no life in you. Cannibalism much, Jesus? I mean seriously, these words shock. They offend. They make you glad that they’re read in the dog days of summer rather than in a month from now when everyone’s back in town.
Many years ago now Real Simple magazine ran an issue on the kindness of strangers. Readers had submitted short reflections detailing their own encounters. One couple described backpacking through Europe in their early twenties, running out of cash, and needing a place to stay in from the rain. They received accommodations, a delicious meal, and cash from a farmer in France. A few people described road trips that had gone south—like a flat tire or a blown head gasket—and the people who had stopped to help them. There were stories about hospital visits and plane rides and messy divorces all about the times someone else helped them. Each time people described strangers who had shown empathy, care, and kindness.
If you were following closely, you likely caught St. Paul’s drift in our reading from his Second Letter to the Corinthians this morning. He’s asking for money. Not for himself mind you—Paul worked as a tent maker when he traveled to care for his own needs—but for the people of the church in Jerusalem who’ve hit on some hard times. We didn’t read it this morning, but Paul begins by telling the Corinthian church that the disciples up the road from Macedonia had already given even in the midst of their poverty. He tells the Corinthians that it was “a wealth of generosity” on the Macedonians’ part. He continues, “For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.” The Macedonians wanted—neigh, they begged—to give back to the church where it all began in Jerusalem. To let them know that even though they were primarily Jewish believers, the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor saw them as their spiritual forebears.
I started kindergarten when I was four. As kid number six, I’m sure my mom was thinking that she would like a bit of quiet in the house for the first time in 16 years and she got me into school as soon as she could. Even though I had a November birthday, I met the cut off, by golly, and so I took my place at South River Elementary School.
At a wedding reception for a college friend of Melissa’s a number of years ago, each table was asked to come up with at least one song with the word love in it, and then serenade the happy couple throughout the dinner. There was one catch: no repeats allowed. Within a minute the first group popped up and began singing “All you need is love” by the Beatles. One by one other tables sang too, sometimes mumbling forgotten words, and often out of pitch. Songs like “I had a vision of love” by Mariah Carey or the B-52’s “Love Shack.” Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” got belted out by a diva wannabe. Our table sang “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” with its “Five Hundred 25 Thousand,600 minutes” refrain. After more tables went and some opted to go again, the remaining people got desperate trying to conjure up songs—this was the pre-smart phone era, so we couldn’t just Google titles online—and so one guy decided to do his best Tom Cruise crooning, “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips,” the opening lyrics to “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling,” and immediately got booed down by the bride’s family. Oh, we could go on and on, and I suspect some of you may spend the next 10 minutes of my sermon trying to come up with other variations, but you get the idea.
We read a portion of scripture today from the first letter of John that includes words from one of my favorite hymns—a hymn I want sung at my funeral some day. It’s “I want to walk as a child of the light” and the words from John’s epistle can be found in the chorus, “In him there is no darkness at all.” The song goes on to say that the night and the day are both alike, and how Christ the Lamb is the light of the city of God. It closes with the request, “Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.” (And if this weren’t “Covidtide,” I’d be asking our organist to play that song for us at the end of the sermon, throwing him an audible call in the middle of the service.)
You can say whatever you’d like, but reading a gospel text for Easter that doesn’t even have an actual appearance of the risen Jesus is just downright odd. After the events of Good Friday when the body of Jesus had been placed in that new tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ disciples rested on that Sabbath overcome with grief even though it was the Passover feast. They were called to remembered the deliverance of their ancestors from the Egyptians by the hand of God, and also the gift of the Sabbath given at creation. But that rest and remembrance faded to the background as they replayed the events of the last week in their minds and tried to figure out what had really happened. Jesus had spoken about the dream of God—of a beloved community—where the last would be first and the first would be last. He told them stories of an overflowing banquet where those from the streets would be invited in. He healed the sick, and opened the eyes of the blind. He raised a little girl from the dead, and also called his friend Lazarus from the tomb. But now he was dead. And with him that dream of God that he had proclaimed.