by Ellen Sims
texts: I Peter 3:13-17; John 14:15-20

On third Sundays of each month we offer a contemplative service that includes sung prayers, silence, scriptures, and varied ways of praying. Rather than a sermon, I offered this brief reflection on our Gospel text. Following that is a description of the prayer stations for this particular service.

Last Sunday, in an earlier part of Jesus’ last speech to his disciples, he told them he was going away to the Father but that they would be reunited. Thomas interrupted with “But we don’t know how to go there,” and Jesus replied, “I am the way to the Father.” I heard a little panic in their voices and an implicit, “What’s going to happen to us?” and “How do we love you after you’re gone?”

Farewells are often difficult. You and I have the difficult task today of saying goodbye to one of our own. But Jesus will leave by way of a cruel death. I hear in today’s reading so much patience and love in Jesus’s elaborate response to his followers’ fears and questions.

What is not obvious in the English translation is that Jesus uses the second person plural pronoun throughout his response. To emphasize that he is speaking to a community of followers and that the Gospel of John is speaking to an entire faith community, hear Jesus use our Southern plural of you to address the community of believers: “If y’all love me, keep my commandments. God abides with y’all and God will be in y’all. I will not leave y’all orphaned. Because I live, y’all will live also.”

This is a Gospel written seventy years after Jesus died. How does the community John addressed continue to cohere around the love they have for Jesus and he for them—two generations after he died? Is it possible for you to love your great great grandfather whom you never met? This is a very real challenge for the early church. Today’s scriptures suggest there are three ways later generations of Jesus followers keep loving him. The ongoing community of faith, a hub of interrelatedness, will keep loving him by: 1)loving Jesus in their love for one another, 2) keeping the commandments of Jesus (chief of which is love), and 3) receiving the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We might think of Jesus as the personification of love (and the Holy Spirit as the force or movement or conveyor of love). The Jesus of human history was becoming the mystical Christ of Christian faith in the understandings of his followers. The community that composed John’s Gospel was beginning to recognize the meaning of their oneness in Christ.

In last week’s readings, after Thomas asked Jesus to show them the way to the Father, Philip added: “Show us the Father,” and Jesus replied, “The Father and I are one.”

I will spend the rest of my life trying to understand and express and live that paradox. Here’s my best stab at expressing what is the (not exclusively Christian) tenet that could change the world, which is that WE ARE ONE. If I believe you and I are ONE, then what happens to you truly affects me, and what happens to that child in Syria is happening to me, and what God is doing in this world in the name of love has to be done by ME, and the life I live now will live on not only through my granddaughter’s DNA but also through a sapling just now emerging in a forest and a star just now exploding into existence light years away. How differently we will walk this earth when we know we are all one.

“I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you. Because I live, you will live also.”

1. Giving account of your hope. An accountant records accounts receivable against accounts payable. We hope our expenditures do not outweigh our income. Sometimes when our hope seems to dwindle, we may need to replenish that important asset. Find pencils and accounting ledgers at this station for listing causes for hope (I Peter 3:17). If recent events have depleted some of your hope, take some time now to add to that side of the ledger by naming and thanking God for signs of hope in this world.
2. Offering a farewell prayer. It seems only fitting that we offer a communal prayer for M on a flipchart, one of her signature tools of the trade. You may contribute to this prayer by adding your own phrase to a prayer that begins:
Thank you, God of Love, for the ways M has enriched our faith community. We pray blessings for her. May she . . .
3. Sharing a meal of hope. It may seem odd that the meal memorializing Jesus’s last meal with his followers is a celebration called the Eucharist or the Great Thanksgiving. But through the eyes of hope and love, we realize we have not been left as orphans (John 14:18) and that Christ’s love continues with us. That is why we celebrate. As you come forward to receive the bread of life and the cup of joy, give thanks that God’s love endures forever.
4. Giving with hope. It takes hope to give. It requires faith to think that you can turn loose of some of your hard earned money when you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It takes trust to believe that those resources will be used for good. Take a leap of hope, of faith, of trust. Exercise your hope muscles. Pray as you give that God will use your gifts and strengthen you in the process.

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