Here’s some Persian poetry from the 14th Century.
“And still, after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me.’
Look at what happens with a love like that, It lights the whole sky.”
To me, this passage from the Persian poet, Hafez, is an amazingly simple, yet very rich, way of thinking about God’s unceasing, undemanding, generous love for us. The Sun continuously provides life-giving energy to every living thing on Earth. Indeed, life on Earth would not exist if it weren’t for the powerful light and heat of the Sun.
Today’s gospel passage from Luke also speaks to us of God’s unceasing and generous love. Right before this passage, two disciples encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They do not recognize this “stranger”, who just showed up along the way. The three of them start sharing stories about Jesus; his teachings, his life, and his sudden, terrible death. Not until they break bread, do they recognize the stranger is, indeed, Jesus.
In today’s reading, Luke tells us the rest of the story. The two disciples join their friends in Jerusalem and begin to tell them of that wondrous encounter, saying about the risen Jesus, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures for us.”
As they are speaking, Jesus appears to all of them. This is not a ghostly, spiritual image of Jesus, but a tangible, solid, physical Jesus.
How physical, how human is this Jesus? Let’s say you’re going to hang out with some friends, watching something on Netflix or Amazon, or whatever. You show up, greet everyone, then one of the first things someone says is,”What’cha got to eat?” Or, “Let’s get some pizza!” This is being human. This is how we share our lives with our friends, by sharing the life giving, life sustaining gift of food. I don’t know of a more intimate act which we can engage in public than eating together.
So Jesus arrives and greets them with, “Peace be with you.” Of course, they are frightened! They have seen their beloved friend and teacher violently killed, and have seen or heard of his empty tomb. Luke tells us, “They were startled and terrified.” I’ll bet! I can imagine how I’d feel, but you’re not supposed to use words like that in Church! Rest assured, food would NOT be the first thing on my mind!
But Jesus does eat with them, and begins to, as Luke puts it, “open their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Jesus is using this moment of upset, of disruption, this moment of fear turning to joy, this moment of uncertainty to re-orient their thinking, to change their minds about who they were, and about who they are now.
Jesus reminds them of all they’ve been through together, the good time and the bad times. He reminds them of why they were chosen or called in the first place. He reminds them that they are to continue the work of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness to all nations. If they remain afraid, if they give up and try to return to their lives before they knew Jesus, then Jesus and his teachings will truly be dead! Their work now is to keep God’s Word alive in a world that often doesn’t want to hear it.
Jesus also urges them to be patient a little while longer. He wants them to trust the process, to remain in Jerusalem until they are filled with the Holy Spirit, the power of God, or as Luke puts it, “clothed with the power from on high.” We will celebrate that occasion about a month from now, on Pentecost. Luke ends his gospel with an image of the apostles in Jerusalem, “with great joy…continually in the temple, blessing God.”
My Church of the Good Shepherd family and friends, we, like the disciples in today’s gospel, find ourselves in a very unsettled time, and for some a very scary time. Transitions are hard! Transitions are uncomfortable. They take us out of our comfort zone, and leave us with no promise of ever returning to it. We wonder what’s next. What does the future hold for me, for us? Is this the end of our journey, a detour, or is this, possibly, a place of rest and reclamation?
Like the disciples, it feels like our dear friend, mentor and leader was taken from us too suddenly and too soon. Now, please let me be clear: I’m not comparing Rev. Amy to Jesus, although I do think she comes close.
But this is a time to be honest with ourselves. No one enjoys the painfully upsetting nature of transition, of living in the “in-between”. But if we pause for a moment and consider that our very lives can be seen as an “in-between” moment. We come from God and we will return to God. And, best of all, God is present with us throughout this in-between time of life. God’s love for us is just as strong, just as caring, and just as constant as it was a month ago, a year ago, or since the time of Jesus and the Apostles. God’s unceasing love is with us now, and will remain with us even to the end of time! Hallelujah!
But wait! There’s more! We have the full support of the Bishops and the resources of the Cathedral. I am so very grateful that we have with us today the Rev. Canon Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa. Again, I won’t say that he’s the Holy Spirit, but he does come close!
We have our Wardens and our Vestry. They will be right here with us, and for us, to keep the lights on and the doors open. They will continue our programs and ministries, and they are all excellent listeners if you need to talk about anything. And, this time, I won’t qualify it. They ARE angels!
Most importantly, we have each other! It’s fairly easy and comfortable to be ministered to, to be the recipient of God’s work or love in action. It is more of a challenge to be a minister to each other, to be the one to proclaim God’s love, and to let your life be an example of God’s love for all Creation. But that’s the work we signed on for. Those are the vows we took at our Baptism.
This is also a perfect time to pause, rest, reflect and pray about your own gifts, talents and abilities, and how your life can be an example to others. Neither Amy, nor Jean Baptiste, nor I, nor the Bishops are the church. YOU are the church! More specifically, YOU ARE The Church of the Good Shepherd. You are needed here.
Like the apostles in Luke, we, too, will wait and pray. We will keep community with each other, and we will reassure each other of God’s love for us.
The Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote ”Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”
It’s good to look back on fond memories and to see how far we’ve come, together. Now it’s time to begin to turn our hearts, our minds, our souls and ourselves to new beginnings. To continue being together, to continue growing together, and to continue our work of living and spreading the good news of God’s love.
And, as we say in our Baptism, “With God’s help, we will!”