St. John's, Centreville
May 21, 2017
6 Easter A
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The scene of our gospel lesson is the Last Supper. Imagine for a moment that you are one of the disciples, sitting around the table with Jesus for the last time. Perhaps your feet are still wet from being washed by Jesus. Perhaps you are shocked at the sudden departure of Judas to go do what he must do, and alarmed when Jesus says that Peter will deny him. Perhaps you just don't understand what is going on.
Why must Jesus leave? Things had been going pretty well, hadn't they......except for the religious leadership, who were afraid he might take over their role. Jesus had been well received in Jerusalem just a week before, with shouts of "Hosanna" and the waving of palm branches. They were getting more and more followers. There was still a chance Jesus could lead his followers to overthrow the Romans, and then he would be crowned as king! Then he would lead the nation, just as so many people wanted.
So why is Jesus saying he has to leave, that where he is going they cannot come? Who is going to lead the disciples? What is going to happen to them? There is already dissension among them. Judas has left, Peter may not be strong enough to stand up to their adversaries. Who among them could take Jesus' place? No one.
Then Jesus says that he will send them an advocate who will be with them forever. And it will be like God living within them, teaching them and guiding them. This will be the Holy Spirit.
Jesus encourages them to keep the commandments and to love one another as Jesus has loved them. And he has loved them. He has shown his love for all people in so many different ways - healing the sick, feeding the hungry, taking care of the poor, respecting women, treating everyone with dignity. He lived the way of loving others.
Now they are supposed to continue this way of living and teaching about the love of God after Jesus is gone. They will get their strength and guidance from the advocate that Jesus will send. Jesus will live in the Father as the Father lives in them.
What an anxious and scary time for the disciples - not knowing exactly what lies ahead, their leader leaving them, the group starting to break apart. How do they live into the unknown when they are attacked from those within and outside of the group, when they are filled with fear, and worried about those who are drifting away? They are worried about their future. Following someone who will no longer be with them in person will be very hard.
Jesus knows all this. He knows they cannot survive by themselves. He will send an advocate, the Holy Spirit to be with them. Only those who have the eyes to see, those who love Jesus, will see the Holy Spirit working within them.
What about us? Do we have the eyes to see the Holy Spirit working in and through us? I think sometimes we think God is at work only when we see big miracles, big changes of heart, big actions. But God works through us in small ways too, ways that we may not even be aware of. We need to be aware of how God wants us to live and act at all times, not just when we think someone is watching us. Our very being is filled with God's love and we respond out of that love for us.
The story is told of an elderly, despondent woman who lived in a nursing home. She wouldn't speak to anyone or request anything. She merely existed - rocking in her creaky old rocking chair. The old woman didn't have many visitors. But every few mornings, a concerned and wise young nurse would go into her room. She didn't try to speak or ask any questions of the woman. She simply pulled up another rocking chair beside the unhappy woman and rocked along side her. Weeks, maybe months later, the old woman finally spoke. "Thank you," she said, "for rocking with me."
Love is sometimes simpler than we imagine. Small kindnesses shown to others with the right attitude can be all that we need to do. And sometimes larger gestures are needed, showing that God's love is the source of life.
Alan Paton, in his novel, "Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful" tells a riveting story that happened during apartheid in South Africa. A black pastor asked a white Chief Justice to attend the Maundy Thursday service at his church and to participate in the foot washing. The Chief Justice, who had worked for equal rights for black Africans, agreed to come. At the time of the foot washing, a black woman named Martha came forward. As she came down the aisle, the Chief Justice realized that she had been a servant in his house for years and had cared for his children. As he bent down to wash her feet, he noticed the many calluses she had, and how worn and tired her feet looked; worn and tired, in part, from serving him and his family. He gently washed and dried her feet. Taking them in his hands, he kissed her feet, before returning to his seat. It was a gesture that set healing in motion. The life-giving power of God's love was in that gesture. Of course, the media got wind of what happened that night in that church and the judge's career was negatively affected. But he said he had no regrets because he, too, had experienced the life-giving power of love that helps us to see each other as children of God.
May we, like the nurse and the judge, find our own ways, large and small, to show God's love to others. May we ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the needs of those around us and to give us the wisdom and strength to respond. May we, as vessels of God's love, reflect that love to others as we continually seek to love God as God loves us. Amen.