The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellevue
May 17th 2020, Easter 6A
Before the lockdown started, way back years or months ago, who knows; we were all trying to decide if we could do communion on Sundays. Was the common cup safe? How about the bread? It all seems a little silly now after months shut up in our houses.
But at the time a very earnest colleague responded to the suggestion that we all do Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist through Lent (ah how naive we were) with a gasp and said: “You all want to deny people Jesus for all of Lent?!“
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. […] In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”John 14
Here we are, months later, well past Lent, almost to Pentecost and I’m here to say emphatically that Jesus is with us, that God is with each and every one and all of us.
I think we know that in our heads, we know intellectually that God is everywhere, and that thinking we can be apart from God, or not have Jesus because we haven’t had Eucharist is a foolish notion. But our hearts are probably feeling a little differently.
One of my colleagues here in the Diocese said that her child told her he missed communion, and Sunday school, and coffee hour, and his church Grandmas and Grandpas. And someone (helpfully) suggested that she was a priest, she could give her child communion. She gently replied that what he missed wasn’t bread and wine, it was the church, and that she couldn’t magic up for him.
Jesus today prepares his disciples for a world that looks totally different than the one they’d come to know and expect.
Jesus today reminds us of our bedrock truth in a world that looks totally different than the one we’d come to know and expect.
There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from the love of God. We are in Christ, Christ is in us, and we are all in and with God. This is the one thing that nothing can change. Not a virus, or a quarantine, or anything else.
And for those disciples Jesus gives them a simple and (for John) amazingly straightforward guide to this new strange life: keep my commandments.
And what were Jesus’ commandments?
That too, despite all of John’s layers and layers of meaning is pretty simple: Love God, and love your neighbor with all that you are.
This pandemic has stripped away every layer of fluff we’ve added to our lives. All the extra bits we hang off the essential. And that perhaps makes it exactly the time to examine the bedrock basics of our faith practices as well.
Like the apostles, staring into a future they couldn’t quite imagine, we too look ahead and see only uncertainty. Who can say when we will return to some of our old activities? Who can say if some of our old lives will never return?
What then remains?
In the eye of the storm, in the strange calm within our little quarantine bubbles we lose vestments, and pomp. There is no altar except the one within our hearts, the calendar has sort of smeared into an indistinct blur. Habits have been upset and overturned.
And yet, like Isaiah standing outside his cave it is not in the fierce wind, or the storm of disease where we find God. Not in the hurry and everyday bustle, but in the stillness, the solitude, and the silence.
In our apartments, and houses, and rooms. When the quiet descends and the sameness settles upon us there is God beneath our feet like bedrock. Perhaps not loud, or flashy, or what we were used to but there, constant, unwavering.
And there is invitation in that bedrock presence, an invitation in this moment in time the same invitation Jesus offers the apostles and the rest of his followers. To live in him, to let him live in them. To be the Eucharist for the world. To be the body and the blood.
That is our invitation. In this moment when we are physically distant from one another, when we cannot gather at the sacramental table: we are invited to be the sacrament of Jesus’ life. To be body and blood for the world. To practice standing on the ground of God.
It is simple, and it is impossibly hard: love God; love your neighbor.
Please note: Jesus did not say to take the Eucharist. He did not say to pray the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed. He did not say to observe the liturgical calendar, to vote a certain way, to believe a certain way, even to preach.
Just to keep his commandments: love God; love your neighbor. And that in these things he isn’t leaving us on our own. We are helped, aided, supported in our struggle.
What does the life Jesus is describing look like in the age of COVID?
It looks like simple, but radical practices:
We love our neighbor today by staying home, by checking on those more vulnerable than ourselves, by wearing masks when we must be out to protect the people we encounter, by remembering how stressed everyone around us is when we encounter anger or rudeness, by ordering food for those who have none, by donating blood, by making masks, by calling to check in on our family and friends.
We love God by checking in, listening, watching for God’s movement in our lives. By caring for the people around us, by practicing love and grace toward ourselves as well as others. By allowing ourselves to be delighted by God’s overflowing acts of love in blooming flowers, green leaves, or the sight of an elusive wildcat. By shouting at God when we need to (God can take it), crying, laughing, showing off what we’ve made like excited children.
We are not alone, God is with us. The ground under our feet, the air we breathe, the food that sustains us, the love that wells up within us.
And from that, from that we can do the only things that matter in the end: Love God; love one another. Just that and nothing more.