Our Collect for the Day: Almighty God, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven. Mercifully give us faith to know that, as he promised, he abides with us on earth to the end of time; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
It’s an unusual day. Not because the bishop (now the Archbishop!) is visiting. Not because in the secular calendar it’s Mother’s Day. Not because every day is unusual (and special!) in its own way. It’s an unusual day because it’s the Sunday in between Ascension Day (which we celebrated on Thursday of last week) and Pentecost which is next Sunday. Today--this Sunday—we are living in between times. We are living after Jesus has vanished up into the clouds from the disciples’ and our sight, and we are living before the Holy Spirit has come upon the disciples and others, filling them with a new presence and purpose. And so, as the people of God, we are once again in a waiting mode, but not like the kind of waiting we experience during the four weeks of Advent when we wait for the birth of the Holy Child. No, this time we are waiting after the departure of someone near and dear to us. We are waiting after such a departure for something we can hardly even imagine to come to us and to fill us with a new presence and a new purpose.
Waiting, not really knowing what is going to happen after the departure of something or someone whose presence defined us, reassured us, gave us a purpose. We’ve probably all experienced it—experienced the disorientation of it, the feeling of being at loose ends, the wondering what was going to happen next. It may have had to do with the loss of beloved mentor, the loss of a role we have had for years, even the loss of a place. We have all had such an experience.
Let me tell you a story of someone I knew who experienced this. It’s the story of my friend Ed Miller. Ed was the son of a prominent business and civic leader in a mid-sized Midwestern city in the US. Ed’s father was larger than life. Known, admired and loved by many, many people, Ed’s father dominated the life of his family and, of course, Ed’s life as his father and mother’s only son. For this reason, Ed had a complicated relationship with his father. He loved and admired him, and he also felt eclipsed by him.
One night quite late I got a phone call from Ed. Ed’s father had suddenly died, and Ed was beside himself. “How will we ever get along without him?” he asked, not expecting an answer. The next day Ed went back home to his family and to a community who grieved his father’s loss.
About a week following the funeral, after Ed had returned to Chicago, I called Ed to check in on how he was doing. Ed’s voice was quite different. Yes, he was still grieving, but something else was also happening. “Melissa,” he said in a whisper, “I feel as if I’ve been unmuzzled,” It’s as if somehow I’ve come into my own through my father’s death. I’ve been able to say things and to do things for myself and for my family that I never would have thought I could do before. It’s as if my father’s death has created a space for me to be myself for the first time.”
In Jesus’ prayer that we hear in John’s Gospel for today, Jesus is praying for the disciples and, by extension, for us as the fact of his own departure, in this case, his death, really sinks in. He prays that after he has gone, that they and we will remain grounded in the truth--that all that is holy, all that is loving, all that brings justice and peace has showed up in our own flesh. And he prays that after his departure the disciples and all of us will be sanctified in that truth, that is, that we will all grow in maturity as we incarnate all those same things.
My friend Ed discovered what this was like when he was forced to say goodbye to someone who was like a God to him. He discovered that in his Father’s departure he was given his own new presence and purpose, a new presence and purpose that, of course, was related to the gift of his father’s life to him, but that would also be made flesh again in Ed’s own way, through Ed’s particular personality and values, through where Ed was placed in the world.
For you and for me on this in-between Sunday here at St. Anselm’s, Jesus prayer and the story of my friend Ed Miller encourage us to wait and to expect that God is doing a new thing with our lives in every departure of something or someone important to us. God is doing a new thing and we can assist that new thing to arrive by waiting and looking for it, even if we are looking through the tears of loss. God is doing a new thing in entrusting to us the ongoing work of enfleshing all that is holy, all that is loving and all that brings peace and justice. And God does not expect or even want that we will do this as others have done before us. For enfleshing something must always be our particularity, our unique identity to the task.
Where in your life you have experienced the departure of something or someone of great value and influence? What it was like for you to experience the disorientation, the feeling of being at loose ends, the wondering what was going to happen next? Where has this parish experienced the departure of people or things of great value and influence? What feelings of disorientation have emerged in the wake of such a departure and what have the parish and its people done with those feelings?
Either for you personally or for the parish: What would it look like to trust that as something or someone valuable departs from you that a new energy, a new creation is on its way?
Novelist Mary Gordon has said “Waiting is the vocation of the dispossessed.” What I would say is that waiting and watching, waiting and trusting is the vocation of the Christian folk—those who with God’s help live their lives between a God who came and walked in the flesh among us and a God who promises to return in power and in great glory. Waiting and watching, waiting and trusting that a new power and presence is on its way—this is the vocation of the Christian folk whose paradigm is Jesus and whose companion is the Holy Spirit, filling us with all truth and empowering each and every one of us to enflesh the Gospel in and for the world.