1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
There’s a hymn that begins “Signs of ending all around us, darkness, drear and winter days…” Surely, we can relate. Up until the past few days even the weather seems to have echoed the spiritual dimension of the song. Endings do seem to be all around us. Life, as we experienced it a few months previously, has come to a screeching halt—look closely and we can probably see the skid marks on the road. There is an end of the freedom to go where we want, to walk the streets unencumbered by masks; to go to the movies, dine out in a restaurant with friends—visit loved ones in nursing homes and hospitals attend graduations, weddings and birthday parties and hug those we love. And, to top it all off, today’s Gospel lesson comes from the fourteenth chapter of John, and forms a part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, spoken to the disciples at the Last Supper. Endings all around.
But here is something to keep in mind. Easter is always a beginning, never an end. Here we are, in the sixth Sunday of this most blessed and joyous season. Ahead of us (this coming week, in fact) is the Ascension of our Savior into heaven (I know what you’re thinking—another leave-taking, another ending); but there is also a promise; the coming of the Holy Spirit, and—above all, the reassuring words which Jesus speaks, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
Yet the words spoken by Jesus aren’t simply comforting; they are also immanently practical. Twice in today’s lesson he tells his disciples to keep his commandments. He says: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” The disciples would have had no difficulty remembering the commandments—after all, Jesus had issued them just a little earlier that same evening: “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So, if you want to know how to survive a crisis—the end of so much that we have taken for granted—there is an answer, and our Savior has provided it. Love. That’s right, put aside bunker mentality, hoarding and any plans you might have been harboring to relocate to Antarctica, and embrace love. Because love is what is going to see us through.
And this is what brings us to the promise of Easter—a time of new beginnings, of hope and the promise of life. And if we look closely, there’s plenty of this around as well. Here are just a few examples. No doubt, you have your own:
Nature is getting a break: This past week two parishioners reported seeing Baltimore Orioles at their feeders—a first. What’s more, a brown bear was spotted in Spain for the first time in 150 years. And then there are the flamingos roosting in Mumbai in record numbers. All of these are happy occurrences as we observe Rogation Days this week.
There are also rainbows everywhere these days: hanging on doors, taped on windows. And signs of love and appreciation to workers on the front lines. Tulip farmers in the Netherlands have even gotten into the act, spreading happiness by sharing messages carefully crafted in their tulip fields that can be seen from the sky. At one farm you can see “See you next year”, while another says “#staystrong.”
And, my goodness-don’t we appreciate our teachers, schools, mail carriers, janitors, barbers and hairstylists in ways we never would have considered until now.
And we’ve gotten more creative. People are making masks—one mother/daughter duo even created masks with a clear plastic covering over the mouth to assist those who are hearing impaired to read lips. Some of us have learned a great deal more about the wonders of technology and how it can bring us together than we ever would have dreamed. We’ve seen neighbors assisting those who are in high risk groups obtain their groceries; communities gathering together to hold socially distanced parades in cars to celebrate birthdays and graduations; and people standing outside nursing homes to visit loved ones through the window. Look at it all and we discover that love, indeed finds a way.
Easter is always a beginning, never an end. By all appearances, a grave looks to be nothing more than a place of grief, mourning, and loss, a repository for the dead. But look inside on that first Easter morning and discover it empty and soon thereafter encounter the living Christ and suddenly that same tomb becomes a symbol of victory, promise and new life.
For the disciples, on that night in the upper room, the farewell discourse of Jesus must have sounded frightening and confusing. It’s not hard to imagine tears in their eyes as they listened to Jesus speak. And yet—looking back at this event through the lens of the resurrection, we see that what Jesus said was true. God has gifted us with a love so great that it brought us the promise of life. Love is the answer. Love your neighbors as yourself and the world can see the power of God at work. For the love we share with those around us is but a reflection of the great and endless love that God has shown for each of us.
Easter is always a beginning. That’s not to say that loss is merely an illusion—because, the truth is that loss is very real and deeply painful. What our Easter faith proclaims is that beyond loss, there lies a promise, and that promise is that God is with us. We are not orphaned in this crisis, nor in any trauma we might encounter in the future. God is with us. Jesus walks alongside us and the Holy Spirit guides us. Think of it this way, it’s not denial that enables Christians to live with hope—it’s courage. Courage to face the immensity of what is lost, and to recognize that even in the midst of losing of those we love, or losing our job, suffering the reduction of income and enduring the uncertainty of what lies ahead, God is present and is offering us hope.
Courage is born from the promise that God is with us, and that God’s love, ultimately is what saves us. Embracing love in a time of crisis enables us to maintain our humanity, to become boldly creative and to look ahead to the future, not with fear, but with patience and with confidence—recognizing that God is present even in the midst of a world that has changed, a world rife with endings, anxiety and fear. This season of Easter teaches us that every ending we encounter is an opportunity for the grace of God to bring new life in the midst of death. And it demonstrates again and again the promise that love transcends everything, not only now, in our moment of need—but also in the future. A future to which we can look forward to with hope—hope, born of faith and, we pray, shaped by love. In the name of the risen Christ. Amen.