Last weekend, I had the joy of presiding at a very California outdoor wedding that combined Silicone Valley with ancient Redwoods and Sequoias.
I had known the groom since his infancy, and his beautiful bride surrounded herself with her former synchronized-swim teammates as bridesmaids.
Now synchronized swimmers owe everything to control, teamwork and order, all qualities that were tested as the bride persevered in her wish for outdoor nuptials amid the great sequoias, two hours into a downpour as an indoor facility lay a mere 100 yards away.
As everyone dashed to the dry space immediately after my pronouncement, it was if we had conquered the world once we dried off and ignored the pine needles in the gorgeous wedding gown.
Everything clicked as loved ones and relatives danced the night away, and my own dispersed family found precious time together amid the festivities.
It was truly hard to say good-bye, we successfully avoided trite departure courtesies, and yet we experienced the letdown like that when Shakespeare reminds us that parting is such sweet sorrow.
We’ve all been through intense living, whether it be a quick weekend wedding, extended graduation rites or a family reunion.
Remind you of a recent similar encounter in your life?.
If so, you can begin to appreciate the existential feelings welling up in Jesus’ disciples in an extended section of John’s Gospel called the Farewell Discourse.
Every year, we read sections from the Farewell Discourse in the waning days of the Easter season.
Letting go becomes even more intense, as this represents a final goodbye, not simply the temporary absence of a month or season.
More so than in Matthew, Mark or Luke, John’s Gospel gives sweeping witness to culminating act of salvation as if it were one word: Death/Resurrection/Ascension.
As mentioned in Holy Week, John’s witness to Jesus’ redemptive work has Jesus fully in charge and with bold foreknowledge of what will unfold.
Today’s passage represents a small slice of that big, audacious vision.
In earlier sections of this Farewell Discourse, we almost eavesdrop on an extended prayer between Jesus and his heavenly Father, whereby Jesus sums up everything he has done in intimate communion with God.
Now Jesus must prepare the disciples for his final departure in what seemingly goes right over their heads—an appropriate prediction of this Thursday’s Feast of the Ascension.
Jesus prepares to pass the baton to the Advocate—a quirky word—or the Holy Spirit who will continue to teach us and remind us of what he said and did.
Never once does Jesus insinuate that he will stick around forever.
Separation lies at the heart of the human condition, and Jesus models that coming separation in his Death/Resurrection/Ascension.
When done well, final last words can convey a deep blessing and challenge simultaneously, and Jesus does not waste his chance.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”.
Easier said than done.
Let me break it to you gently, but it appears that the world—our world—continues to struggle with Jesus’ admonition.
With or without personal testimonials, we could spend the afternoon discussing ways that our modern world struggles with anxiety.
Some palpable anxiety stems from the sin, brokenness and unjust realities of life amid political strife, rampant income inequality, or oppressive structures that overwhelm the soul.
Other more personal, self-imposed anxiety flows from our low self-esteem or conflicts generated from peer-group pressure or failed life goals across the age spectrum from the elderly through mid-life and among the rising Gen Z crowd.
My goals is not to make you anxious by talking about anxiety.
Rather, let’s wonder aloud what Jesus might mean when he beckons us to not be afraid.
After all, anyone who freely hangs from a Cross on our behalf is not given to limp platitudes.
At least a dozen times in passages just before or after today’s passage, John’s Gospel talks about ‘eternal life’ and fruitful living as goals of the Spirit.
Anyone in favor of eternal life and fruitful living?.
John is at pains to remind us that eternal life happens right here and now when we fully apprehend God’s surrounding love and blessing in our lives—an idea nicely captured in the Hebrew word Shalom .
So it’s no utopian bromide.
Rather, it serves as a prophetic vision of what it means to live the resurrection life—a vision we celebrate well beyond Easter Day as we attempt to speak Good News to an anxious and distracted world around us.
What is your vision of eternal life right here and now, a zesty engagement with our inner selves as well as the world in which we live and move and have our being?.
What do we have to say to the children and youth of our parish as they come of age in a world permeated by anxiety?.
In an even bigger way, what do we have to say to loved ones and anyone else who might be listening when we finally take our leave of this world?.
Beyond anxiety—ideally the overcoming of it—Jesus drops another big word on his disciples that’s well timed for this Memorial Day weekend.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”.
We domesticate this word Peace at our peril—Jesus has something much bigger in mind than smiley faces and pumpkins.
Although we are all for some inner tranquility, Jesus expands Peace big league into a ginormous vision of the Kingdom or Reign of God—the basileia—that breaks into our current reality in the spirit of justice, mercy and reconciliation.
Jesus compels us beyond the isolation of our inner narcissism to something that is road-tested (perhaps crucifix-tested) as something larger than ourselves.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we honor those who have given their life in service to our nation.
We realign our values with a vision of biblical peace, transformation and resurrection spirit not so much as feel-good karma but as a just vision for this nation and the world.
Jesus prepares his disciples for his leave-taking with words of comfort and challenge, and we seek to mirror this challenge in our daily lives as the Body of Christ.
It’s been a wild ride of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and we are never quite sure whether the disciples get it or remain clueless.
Yet we know the explosive growth of Christianity that fans out throughout the known world in the earliest days of the Early Church.
We seek to replicate doses of it in our common life at St Michael’s through our worship, pastoral care, formation and outreach to a world in need.
I bid you to offer your anxieties to God in prayer, that they may be washed in divine love and transformed into resilience, focus and inner strength.
This goal may be the lasting take-away from the Easter season, a gift of resurrection spirit that never avoids life’s pain but transforms our brokenness—our anxiety—into deeper life courage and spiritual resilience.
In Scripture and until this very day, a person’s last words should bring additional poignancy and focus to what is important in this life.
It often becomes a topic in Holy Week, but it also should capture our imagination equally amid the great fifty days of Easter.
What would be your final words of blessing and wisdom to loved ones or anyone who will listen?
Whatever we might decide—and it’s really an important question—John gives us Jesus’ final words to his disciples, and through them to us:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Accept God’s peace that passes all understanding, and become a conduit for such peace, such shalom, to permeate this world as a beacon of justice, mercy and reconciliation. Happy final days of the Easter season, an uplifting Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, and miraculous expectation for the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that descends upon us soon at Pentecost.