Sermons

It seems odd that we should be hearing these passages from John’s Gospel in the weeks of our Easter celebration.  Remember that we are still very much in Easter – for another 14 days.  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

But here, in the midst of our Alleluia celebration we hear Jesus preparing his Disciples for the day he will no longer be with them.  Referred to as the “Farewell Discourse”, Jesus’ words of instruction are meant to ready the disciples to continue on after his crucifixion and resurrection.

While, chronologically, it would make more sense to hear this passage during Holy Week, we hear it now because we are the ones who continue to struggle with the question of how we are to follow Jesus when we lack the benefit of his physical presence among us.  We are the ones who must wrestle with what it means to believe we can be in relationship with a God whose time walking on this earth preceded us by over 2,000 years.

Jesus tells his followers in this passage from John, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. ”

I have had the sacred gift of being present with people as they have died on several occasions.  Each time I have had this opportunity, I knew I was as close to the presence of God as I have ever come in my life.

Most recently, as many of you know, I sat with my dad for the nine hours between his stroke and his last breath.

I treasure each and every one of those hours, each minute a lifetime of memories.  As each moment passed, I became increasingly aware that my father became less mine and more God’s, less of this world and more of the next, until, finally, he was entirely with God.

I knew from my experiences sitting with others who were dying that it is often helpful to give them permission to go.  It can be important to give the dying assurance that those they are leaving behind will be okay, that they will look after one another; they will make sure that the love the dying one had for those still living will continue on in the living, through the living to each other.

And so, I said those same words to my dad.  “It’s okay, dad.  We’ll be okay,” I said.  “We’ll take care of mom, and each other. You can go, whenever you’re ready.”

I don’t know if he could hear me or not, and ultimately it doesn’t really matter.  Thinking back on those words I spoke to my dad in the late-night quiet of his hospital room, it occurred to me that I said those words as much for myself as I did for him.  Those words my heart formed were as much a Creed for how I was preparing to live my life without my father in it, as they were permission for him to let go.

In the weeks since my father died, I have been trying my best to love those my father loved with new intention.  This has been the way I have been making it through my grief, but it has also been the way I have been able to keep my father the most alive at the same time. 

Holding fast to the assurance I offered him at his bedside has helped me to let him go, and to hold on to him in his absence.

Jesus says to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  This final instruction from Jesus can, at first hearing, sound as though Jesus is telling the disciples that if they love him, they will show it by keeping his commandments.  But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying.  I think what Jesus is telling them is that if they love each other, that is keeping his commandments.  Loving one another with steadfast intention will be the way they will get through the hard days that are ahead of them.  Loving one another will also be the way they will keep Jesus the most alive in the world after he is gone.

Jesus goes on to talk about the Advocate, who we call the Holy Spirit, who will come to be with them after he is gone.  Then he does this great thing where he admits to his disciples that the world will not see it when it comes.  The world will not always see the Spirit at work. The world will not always see God in the world around them.  But they will see.  They will see the spirit and they will see God because they will know to look in the first place.

We are the heirs of this same promise.  Jesus is talking as much to us in this farewell discourse as he is to his disciples.  Jesus tells us that if we love one another, that is how we will keep Jesus alive in the world.  And Jesus warns us that there will be plenty of times when the world around us will not see what we see.  There will be times when the world around us will not see the spirit of truth; will not see the love of God. 

But we will, if we love one another we will.  If we love one another as Jesus loved us we will see God in the world, though the world might not see it at all.

If we love one another as Christ loved us, that is what will get us through the most challenging times of our lives. And loving one another as Christ loved us is how we will keep Christ as alive today as he was sitting and talking to his disciples in this Gospel story.

This Easter season can seem all too neat and tidy if we don’t acknowledge that, while we celebrate that the one we loved but see no longer lives on in an Eternal life of glory, there are days when we’d really, really, really like to have him back here with us.

I sure would like my dad back.  And I sure would like a chance to sit next to Jesus, to hear the love in his words from his mouth, to feel the healing in the touch of his hands, to feel the fire in my heart stirred by his vision of the kingdom of God here on earth.

And I think it’s okay to want that.  That’s the mark of having loved at all.

But, in my longing, I hear my dad remind me that he has not left me without comfort.  I hear, in my longing, my promise to keep him alive in my promise to love those he loved.

And I hear Jesus tell me the same thing.  I hear Jesus remind me that when we love those who he loved, we are not left alone to navigate the challenges of our lives.  I hear Jesus reminding us that when we love God; when we love those around us, we keep Jesus alive and working in the world, though the world may know nothing of it.

Christ is risen indeed.  May God give us the courage and the wisdom to make it so.

AMEN

© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello[i]



[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing.  Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here:  David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .

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