Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
If there was ever a week where we needed to hear those words it was this one. On the very day we announced changes to our staff and worship schedule for the fall, our diocesan Bishop Alan Gates announced that he will be retiring late next year and called for the election of his successor. Never mind our breaking news world with more gun violence, the end of federal Covid restrictions, a surge in migrants seeking a better life in our country, and I could go on. Because of course there’s all that personal news too, right? Waiting for the report back from the doctor, or high school seniors who had been planning to go to one place finding out that made it off the wait list on another, or deciding to put the house on the market, or burying a loved one. And that’s just a sampling of the stories I’ve heard this past week.
A sermon based on John 14.
When our lives feel out of control, we often go looking for that which is steady to in our lives to bring us comfort. For many Christians, that place is a local church. They for for the familiar words and songs, to hear the stories of scripture centered on hope, and to receive the sacrament of bread and wine from the table. And so when that place gets unsteady too, we feel a bit unmoored. Not quite so certain if it’ll ever be the same again, and what we should do in response ourselves.
Imagine Jesus’ disciples from this morning’s reading taking place just after they’ve finished what we now call the Last Supper. They’ve certainly been noticing the rise in anxiety due to the anger of the religious and civic authorities. Just the week before, when Jesus decided to go to Bethany and raise Lazarus from the dead, they reminded him that the authorities tried to stone him there. They ask if he’s sure he wanted to go back to Judea. He assures them he does, and so Thomas says to the other disciples, “Then let us also go, that we may die with him.”
But when they’re eating that meal with him, and he takes bread and blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, I’m sure they don’t think it’s the last time he’ll eat with them. Yet Jesus knows, and so he’s wanting to give them these last words of instruction, words that have come to be known as his “Farewell Discourse.” It’s a continuation from the words we heard last week. He said that he was going to prepare a place for his followers in the kingdom of his Father, that place with many rooms.
And now he says to them that even though he is going from their midst, that he would send another to be with them, the Advocate, the Spirit who would be with them forever. Because of that Spirit, he says, while the world would no longer see him, his followers would see him. And because he lives, they too will live.
When he finishes, they go to Gethsemane where he prays. And then Judas comes offering that fateful kiss. The soldiers rush in, Jesus appears before a hastily assembled kangaroo court, and then he is executed. All this happens in less than 18 hours, so those disciples can be nothing less than stunned. Then on the first day of that week, his tomb is empty and he appears before him, and they are stunned all over again.
Change, they say, is inevitable. It’s probably in the third spot behind death and taxes on that list of certainties in life, but Benjamin Franklin never got that far. We know that if we don’t change, we do not grow. The caterpillar who forms a chrysalis. The tadpole that grows into a frog. The seasons of the year, from the emergence of buds in the Spring to the falling of leaves in Autumn.
But we crave stasis. We long for things not to change. For the world to stop for a time. In the eulogy I gave at my father’s funeral, I recounted a story that took place one summer in my childhood. We were both early risers, so the morning was my time to be alone with him while the rest of my siblings and my mom slept in. We often followed the same routine. He would get me a bowl from the high cupboard, and I would grab a spoon and the cereal I wanted. We would sit at one end of the huge table in our kitchen, where he drank his coffee and I slurped my Cap’n Crunch. We talked about whatever was important to a boy of five—like the huge bullfrog hanging out in our ditch—and then we’d sit in the quiet together. Soon enough Dad would put his cup in the sink so he could get off to work, and I would carry over my bowl as well.
We followed this script religiously, until I discovered one afternoon that I could climb onto the counter and get my own bowl. The next morning when Dad asked if I wanted cereal, I told him I could get my own bowl now and no longer needed his help. He watched as I deftly scrambled onto the counter, stood up and took down a bowl. Years later he told me how hard that day was; he knew I was growing up, but he wanted time to slow down just a little so he could cherish it a bit longer.
On that day when I buried my father, I said that while I was no longer that five year old wanting to get my own cereal bowl, I understood it so much better. When I scrambled up onto the counter all by myself, dad wanted time to stand still, maybe even have it go back some. And there at his funeral I was the one who wanted the clock to go back some for the opportunity to have another conversation, to steal another hug. To have him for just a bit more time.
As does everyone who faces a life transition, whatever it may be. We want to go back. To be a bit more awake to it all. To recognize the beauty right in front of us that we often assumed we be with us always. But the call is to notice it now in the moment. To be present and see the goodness around us. Things will indeed change, but that does not mean that all is lost.
Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” “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.” Those words offer us comfort and hope to trust that Jesus will be with us even during time of uncertainty. During times of change.
Friends, we have been blessed by a significant amount of steadiness in the life of this parish for many years. During the time of the pandemic when everything in our lives was thrown into chaos, St. Mark’s continued to be a rock as we worked together to retain a sense of normalcy. And life continues on. Change is indeed a certainty.
So now we face that challenge of change together in this parish. Yet not only that, we do so with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We have been faithful in our worship and work, and I know that we will continue to do so in the future. So I can trust that God is with us. That God does indeed have a plan for us, as the Prophet Jeremiah writes, plans to give us hope and future.
I know this because I am certain of one other thing. And that’s this: Jesus has indeed been raised just as he said. On that first Easter two thousand years ago, the stone was rolled back and the tomb was empty, and an angel proclaimed to those faithful women that Jesus was not there but was raised just as he said. He is the same one who promised to go and prepare a place for us, is in fact doing just that. And he sent the Spirit to us to lead and guide us, and to bring us comfort when life gets stormy.
So do not be afraid, whatever is happening in your life. Trust that Jesus has not left us orphaned, that the Spirit has been sent to us. And know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will abide with us always.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!