Sermon Preached on June 2, 2019 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Learning from Crickets Sunday
Today is that Sunday that falls between Ascension and Pentecost, to translate from ‘church speak’ – it’s the Sunday that falls between the day we celebrate Jesus’ ascending to God and the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples and those gathered in Jerusalem. So, the Sunday between Jesus’ leaving and the coming of the Spirit. Which, if we were to name it in 21st century terms, might be called Therapy Sunday. Bring out your issues of abandonment, your insecurities, your grief…, you name it – it’s all triggered today.
The Church celebrates Ascension mid-week, on Thursday, so some years we move the texts for Ascension to this Sunday (to explain what’s going on, and because we don’t meet for mid-week services). One year, I extinguished the Paschal candle in the middle of the sermon to demonstrate that Jesus had left, ascended, was no longer with them, Risen but present, on earth. The year I remember most vividly, Levi was quite young and sitting with Sophie during the sermon – and he gasped aloud when I snuffed the candle out. That’s how today feels, that’s how this time feels between Ascension last Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday, we are left gasping aloud from the sudden emptiness and the questions it raises.
The text from John’s Gospel assigned for today comes from before the crucifixion, because there are no words in the days between the ascension and Pentecost. Just silence – “just crickets,” we might say.
What we hear in today’s text is Jesus warning the disciples about what’s coming; Jesus is preparing the disciples for his death and resurrection. As he readies them for his leaving them the first time. It makes sense, to be reminded of his first leaving, in this moment, as Jesus is ascending, and they are left alone again. This moment must feel very similar.
It must trigger their memories of how it feels to be left, forcing them to face the reality that what happened to Jesus could happen to them, and knowing that this time he won’t be coming back, even in Risen form. It’s good for them and for us to remember his words, as Jesus tells them ‘I am leaving… and this is my prayer for you.’
Being Jesus, he is pastoral and kind, compassionate, and of course, prayerful about it – one-part therapist, one-part spiritual director (and one-part mission leader too, as he sends them forth to be his hands in the world.)
But first he prays – for them and for us. Actually for us. This isn’t the preacher’s prerogative of stretching the text to include us, but actually us. Jesus specifically prays not only for his followers who are in the room with him, but also for “those who will believe in me through their word.”
That would be us, you and me. Who else would we be, but those who believe in Jesus through the word of those who came before us? We have come to believe through the disciples and those who heard them, who shared the good news with others, and witnessed to that love through the generations.
So while this may feel awful, this Sunday of quiet and crickets, of loss and emptiness – Jesus is praying for us. Which makes today a good lesson for us. We need to commit this to our body’s memory, to our soul’s memory – Jesus is always praying for us in these moments, the ones that feel like this. This is exactly when Jesus is present for us in this way, when we need comfort and compassion and kindness. Jesus is praying for us, with us, particularly in these moments.
I recently had a wonderful visit and conversation with a member of our community. Like many of the conversations I am honored to have, it turned to talking about life and death and how to have a good end. Because while we all die (all of us are mortal and go down to the dust), dying well, like living well, takes intention, and is an aspect of the abundant life that Jesus offers, and wants for all of us.
I think Jesus is modeling a good leaving in this moment today. Saying goodbye, with kindness and compassion, and making amends; doing the work that is left for us to do so we don’t leave that to others; being responsible for what is ours; and not setting up more drama and grief than are necessary for those we love. Being our best selves and showing that self to others, reaching out and being in relationship – honestly and transparently, as we would want others to reach out to us. Being willing to ask for help, for company, for someone to stay awake with us for an hour (even Jesus asked for that much). Knowing that honesty, vulnerability and transparency are the fabric of real relationship, of our friendships and our lives. These relationships shape us and form us into the people we are, into the communities we are, and they are what really matters. That other stuff that we spend our time on – that’s just busy-ness, those are just tasks. From small kindnesses to great acts of generosity, what truly matters are the ways we care for one another.
Which is why Jesus prays the prayer he does as he is leaving his disciples. He prays to God for them, for their protection, certainly, but then, he prays that they might be one, as he and his Father are one. That’s his prayer for us as well. For all those who follow him in the ages to come – that we all might be one. That we might know that kind of intimacy of relationship: unity with God, and connection with one another in community.
My Friends, we live in a between time. Like the time between Ascension and the day of Pentecost, we live in the time between Christ’s being raised from the dead, and the coming of the New Age, when Christ comes again in glory. The time between the resurrection – in which all have been redeemed by God’s love, and the transformation of the world, from what it is, to what God would have it be. This in between time, is our time. The time given to us to do the work left to us to do on behalf of Jesus: to be the beloved community, and to share the Good News of the Gospel with others.
Perhaps this time between, when we are left on our own, is an opportunity – a chance to learn to rely upon one another, to look around and realize that we are in this together, to know and be known, to care and be cared for, to love and be loved, no matter what this world brings. To witness to this love and connection as Christian community – those who follow Christ, and to take this out into the world, so that others may know this reconciling love.
Those who feel lost, abandoned, bereaved, forgotten, altogether run over by whatever is going on in their lives – who may never have known this kind of reconciling love. Or who may have forgotten this love; or worse – who may have been told or understood it as judgment.
We who know God’s love, redemption and reconciliation – need to go find them and share this astonishingly good news with them with compassion and kindness and prayer: “You are God’s beloved, you are redeemed through Jesus and reconciled to God’s Self.”
And from our memory of today and what it feels like in moments like this, we can reach out in empathy and understanding: “Don’t let the silence or the sound of only crickets fool you – you have not been abandoned by God, none of us has. For God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus, whose life has reconciled all people to God; and Jesus gave us one another, in love, so much love. We are right here with you, you are not alone.”
We, who live in this time between, we, too, are witnesses to the resurrection. We are those who live that truth to the world, in word and action.
In the famous words of Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
My Friends, Jesus is Risen – and now? Love. Reconciliation. With God and one another. We’ve been sent out into the world, for the love of the world. That all may know the reconciling love of God.