Year A; Easter 6; 5.17.2020
Let us pray…..
OK, God. This was kind of cute in the beginning. We joked early on in this pandemic “distancing” – parents joked about experiencing what teachers REALLY go through with their kids; there was the joke about the urgency of buying toilet paper when the meteor heads straight for the dinosaurs, his friend sees it and says, “Quick! Let’s go buy toilet paper!” There was the meme about walking the dog endlessly to occupy ourselves – the large collie photoshopped standing on top of the kitchen cabinet with the bubble saying, “I’m not coming down. You’ve already walked me 20 times today.”
OK, God. That was kind of funny. But we have to say, God, it’s not really that funny anymore. It’s been two months of life disruption and terrible loss, the death toll, the job losses, the lurching toward the financial depression. Families, loved ones, neighbors, businesses, lives have been thoroughly disrupted. God, you know all this. And we know you are not to blame. We know that you are merciful and walk with us all the way. But life is hard right now. Amen.
We aren’t laughing anymore. I’m feeling waves of grief now and then. Sometimes I feel dread in the uncertainty. Our faith communities have lost the very things that nurture our souls, that give us comfort in times of trial. The very things that give us meaning. We couldn’t have known that the things that give us joy in our beloved community have turned out to be potential killers: crowds of worshipers gathered for over an hour nurturing our faith; touching holy things like blessing ourselves with holy water and taking and giving the bread and the wine with each other.
Probably the thing I miss the most is congregational singing. Drums, tambourine and guitar at 9:30 Family Eucharist and chanting, anthems and joyful bold hymn-singing at 10:30 Eucharist. My dear friend and eternal Grace Church Senior Warden, the late Frank Walcott used to say, “the congregation sang lustily today.” Singing like that is silenced.
You have stayed in touch with each other and with me. I love that so much. I’ve loved the emails and letters you’ve written because you have shared with me your sorrow and longing to return to worship together. I want to name what many of us are feeling right now: deep sorrow and worry. I DO NOT WANT TO LOSE ANY ONE OF YOU before we see each other again. And we know the truth; it could be months – some are even saying a year before we know it’s safe to gather together again like we used to.
The unmet desires we have cause us to lament. To lament the losses. How do we mourn and give voice to all we are experiencing together? How do we stay faithful, hopeful and loving through the losses, the disruptions, and the adaptations required of us? How do we ready ourselves for the next phase of life in our beloved community? What might that even look like?
Jesus spent four chapters in John’s gospel preparing his eleven disciples for his death and absence. Scholars call it Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. In today’s reading Jesus acknowledges the disciples’ growing feelings of sorrow and dread. He offers assurance, blessed assurance by saying, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” Yes, he is going to his death. But he assures them that this is not the end of their relationship. He uses the wonderful word, “abide.” Kind of an old-fashioned word, but it means deep, side-by-side grafting to each other. Jesus promises that “the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth abides in them if they keep his teachings and commandments.” “Love one another.”
“You will not be orphaned.” I cling to that promise. I forget that promise probably too often.
I remember at about this two-month juncture after John died I felt orphaned. I felt cast adrift, full of doubt. I was uncertain about what I was going to do by myself for the rest of my life. I felt left alone in a large rectory that John as a carpenter had kept up. It was too much for me. The dog, HIS dog was in her last months of life. I truly was feeling quite alone. I worked hard to adapt to my new life and kept up with my work. Some nights I just couldn’t stop crying. Every night I was exhausted.
One day I stormed into my therapist’s office angry that I hadn’t caused any of these circumstances and was furious that I was suffering so much. As I had a full-blown melt-down I shouted, “I’m tired of crying! I’m tired of trying so hard to adapt! I’m tired of YOU telling ME that I will get over it and someday I’ll be happy again! I don’t believe you!”
My therapist let me yell at him. I yelled at him several times during the two years that he guided me through my ups and downs. He helped me imagine what it might look like to move forward in my life. I had lost trust in Jesus, but I came back to him. He kept to his promise, “I will not leave you orphaned, Carolyn.” He was waiting for me. He was with me, never leaving me abandoned. And the next thing I knew, I was moving to Brunswick, Maine.
Last week a story in one of the daily readings in my book “Letting God” by A. Philip Parham caught my attention and refreshed me one sad morning. The story went like this: “In the ancient world ships often included in their crews a powerful swimmer. In case of a ship wreck within sight of land, this person would swim ashore, carrying a line, and he would fasten it securely to something on shore so the rest of the passengers could follow in safety.”
This is the image of Jesus. “’Lifeline swimmer’ is the best translation of the ancient Greek word for this person. Jesus is our strong swimmer; his power fixes our lifeline on the shore so that we can pull our way to safety. Our salvation is secured by the efforts of Christ [the Advocate], yet we must pull our way to him on the rope he offers.” We can trust that he’s good for it.
Some day we will land safely on the shore after this pandemic crisis is over. We are and will still be connected to our “Lifeline swimmer” in each phase of our life together as a faith community. It has been and will be a rocky and stormy ride with much uncertainty and danger still to come. We are afraid of what the future may hold. We grieve our losses even though we might not even be certain what they may be.
We will move through this. Some day we will be gathered together. And we will have done it prayerfully, generously and with grace. We will be significantly changed in ways we can’t fathom.
We are not orphaned as we pray to imagine the next phase of our life together.
We give thanks to you, God for tethering us to our risen “lifeline swimmer.” Alleluia.