7 Easter – May 28, 2017
Terrorism is tearing at the fabric of our common humanity today as we hear Jesus, still saying his goodbye that spans four full chapters (nearly 25% of John’s Gospel!) The long discourse and, in today’s reading, the prayer, are all intended to prepare the disciples for their lives after Jesus’ ascension. And so, on the brink of crossing the threshold from being Jesus’ students to being Jesus’ emissaries to the world, Jesus prays for them, and for us, if you look ahead to verse 20. This prayer prepares them, and us, for the adventure ahead of us.
Notice that Jesus prays that we may be one, as he is one with the Father. Jesus is praying for unity, for community – common unity. In many ways we are still waiting for that unity, that oneness that Jesus desires for the world. I think about the latest terrorist attacks in the news this past week and I think about the fact that this is Memorial Day weekend – Memorial Day is a day specifically set apart to remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to our country. Grateful for the men and women who could see, and can see, a larger vision for our country, and for our world, and they are willing to make sacrifices to further the realization of that vision of peace and unity.
And so Jesus’ prayer for us is still relevant. We still need to hear that we all part of something larger than ourselves. That what we do matters in the whole scheme of things. Our life, our little piece of the whole, matters because we are all interconnected, as Jesus says. Which makes me think of quilts.
Not sure how many people remember the tradition of quilting..the sewing together of many different small and varied pieces of fabric to create one larger quilt. It was practical, but also meaningful and beautiful because quilts can tell a story. Quilts are actually a narrative part of many cultures, a weaving together of a story of life.
Jesus is praying for our lives – he is praying for us to understand that our lives in this world are interconnected. That we are now his body in the world. He is ascending to the Father and letting us know that we are the Father’s, we are one.
But that remains a difficult concept for us to grasp. There are times in our lives when it is easier to look around us and marvel at the “good life” we imagine everyone but us is leading. Even in the face of someone else’s sorrow or suffering, we sometimes catch ourselves shamefully wondering why our faith does not hold up as strong as our neighbor’s faith when storms ravage our lives. It often leads us to think our past lacks significance; our present is missing something; our future is not as promising.
And God weeps.
God’s tears fall because we do not see what our Creator gazes upon each day. Regardless of how we sometimes feel, the patchwork pieces that make up our lives are just as beautiful as the next one. There are joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, and memories and dreams in all of our stories. We can get in the habit of looking only at the underside of our quilt and what we think are unfinished seams while gazing longingly at the seemingly connected pieces of our friends, colleagues, and neighbors. We forget that our undersides also create breathtaking images and figures. There are millions of quilting combinations and innumerable manifestations of God’s glory in each of us—all of us. It’s not a competition; it’s a community. We are created to dream, to imagine, to create, to behold, and to receive the precious goodness that is each of our lives—no matter whether we know how to thread a needle or not.
As we see also in this week’s passage from John, a blessing is part of the leaving. And, somehow, the leaving is part of the blessing. Jesus’ departure—and the way he enters into it—is part of Jesus’ final gift to his friends. In much the same way that Jesus tells Mary Magdalene on Easter morning not to hold onto him, Jesus at the table and in his Ascension urges his disciples—his friends—us—to grow up. He invites them to enter into a new relationship with him that will no longer depend on his physical presence but will rely instead on trusting in his love and growing into the people and the community that Christ has called them to become. It is time for them to become his body, to continue his transforming work in the world that he has physically left but has not abandoned.
So back to present day. Terrorist attacks are horrifying. In the wake of each one, we see the faces of victims on our screens. We hear interviews from witnesses breathlessly describing the terrors they endured. We feel a lot of conflicting, disorienting things — fear, sadness, anger, confusion, hopelessness, and despair — sometimes all at once. We’re often left wondering why?
So what can we do? How do we keep the fabric of our common humanity together?
Some ideas: First, if you can, be the helper. Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers’; you will always find people who are helping.” It’s a quote that often circulates in the wake of terror attacks. But it’s not just because it’s reassuring; it also rings true. Anyone can be a helper if they’re in a position to do so.
Helpers opened up their homes for victims and survivors in the wake of the recent bombing in Manchester, U.K.
Helpers also drove hundreds of miles to take home stranded travelers from the airport after the 2016 terrorist attack in Brussels. Small-business workers helped to protect their patrons in Paris last year after gunfire and blasts killed over 100 people.
Let compassion, not fear, inspire you to act in the hours and days following an attack. Helping others doesn’t just benefit victims; it helps us cope with tragedy, too.
Then, remember terrorism seeks to divide, and don’t let it. Whether it’s right-wing extremists targeting Planned Parenthood or jihadists targeting a French music venue, remember that terrorists are often hell-bent on creating the divisiveness that allows their message to thrive.
The vast, vast majority of Muslims, for instance, vehemently reject the messages behind groups like ISIS or al-Qaida. In the same way that Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t represent Christianity, radical Islamic groups don’t represent Muslims.
Another thing you can do. You can turn off the TV. When tragedy strikes, we tend to stay glued to cable news for hours, hungry for more details, even when watching makes us more scared and more anxious. Our 24/7 news model is the perfect, sensationalized medium to disperse terror near and far, and extremists understand this well.
Terrorism seeks to breed chaos. Don’t fall into a state of fear and anxiety. Go live life as you normally would. That’s exactly what most terrorists don’t want. Remember: Compassion and empathy do far more in fighting terrorism than divisiveness and fear.
“Fight or flight” is real, and it makes sense that those instincts tell us to build walls or turn away from our neighbors in the face of senseless violence. It’s in those moments especially that we have to remind ourselves that that’s what extremists want us to do.
When terror strikes, turn off the TV, parse through the fake news, and do what you can to help those who need it most. Live your life exactly how terrorists hope you don’t. Live your life as disciples of Jesus Christ.
This week provides a good occasion to remember that the English word bless comes from the Old English word blod—blood, referring to the use of blood in ritual acts of consecration. The blessing that Jesus gives as he goes is one that will infuse the community with his love, his grace, his lifeblood. He gives a blessing that will run in the veins of those he has called to be his body; a blessing that will beat in the hearts of those whom he is sending into the world. And that blessing is for us.
As we prepare to leave the season of Easter and cross into Ordinary Time, what blessing do you need? What word or gesture of grace and love do you need to infuse you and sustain you to be a blessing in this world? Is there a blessing that might depend on your letting go, on releasing something—or seeking to be released from something—so that there will be a space for the blessing to enter?
Ascension Blessing (by Jan Richardson)
It is a mystery to me
how as the distance
between us grows,
the larger this blessing
As if the shape of it
depends on absence,
as if it finds its form
not by what
it can cling to
but by the space
As this blessing
makes its way,
first it will cease
to measure itself
Then it will release
how attached it has become
to this place
where we have lived,
where we have learned
to know one another
in proximity and
Next this blessing
in which it moved,
the habits that helped it
the familiar pathways
that it traced.
Finally this blessing
will touch its fingers
to your brow,
to your eyes,
to your mouth;
it will hold
your beloved face
in both its hands
it will let you go,
it will loose you
into your life,
it will leave
each hindering thing
until all that breathes
and all that beats
And Jesus reminds us….”I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. Amen.