Seventh Sunday of Easter
Gospel: John 17: 6-19
Imagine with me. It is the night of the Last Supper with Jesus, and we his disciples have just heard a lengthy sermon from him, talking about the most important commandment to love one another; about himself as a vine and we as branches; about abiding in God’s love. It seems like Jesus is nearing the end of what he has to say, but suddenly, his expression changes and he looks up to the ceiling—no, to the heavens—and we realize he is not speaking to us anymore, but to his Father.
“All mine are yours, and yours are mine,” he says. Like walking in on someone’s private conversation, we have been given a window into the relationship of God to Godself; the holy dance of Spirit, and parent, and child.
I do not know from personal experience what the intimacy between a father and son is like, but I do know the intimacy between a mother and a daughter. It is a blessing I don’t take lightly, in part because I came to understand it through the loss of another mother in my family—Ruth, my mother’s sister.
I didn’t know her well when she died. I was sixteen and had never been to Minnesota, where she had moved as a young woman and started a family. I knew her mostly by the baptism birthday cards she sent me every year, and that she was an organist and a music director in a big Lutheran church. But Ruth’s passing changed our family’s path irrevocably, as we began to travel to here for Thanksgivings, for weddings and funerals and graduations and vacations, and our lives became intertwined with my cousins’, and Minnesota became a second home for my heart. I have come to know Ruth by her absence; her motherhood and her ministry by the gaps she left behind.
And this seems to be true often, that our most intimate relationships are shot through with loss or disappointment. So today, Mother’s Day, might be difficult as we hold up against the secular expectation of the happy family, the experience of loving someone who lives far away; the loss of a child or a sibling; or simply the ways we can hurt people we love most.
Enter the Third Person of the Trinity, who you better believe was there in the room at the Last Supper, there hovering between Father and the Son, among those who witnessed Jesus prayer, drawing them and drawing us into a dance with God and with each other.
The Spirit was present in Jesus’ prayer, because as Romans 8 tells us, the Spirit is present in all of our prayers. And when we have no words for prayer, the Spirit is present in sighs too deep for words. Like a midwife, the Spirit brings forth new life from our groaning.
We know this pattern from Scripture: In the beginning, The Spirit hovers over chaos to bring forth light. The Spirit out of Sarah’s barren womb brought all the children of Abraham; out of the wilderness brought the Israelites to a land of promise; out of the empty tomb brought breath to Jesus’ body. Out of emptiness, out of wilderness, out of groaning the Spirit brings new life, drawing us in to relationship with God, and relationship with each other.
After all, Jesus does not pray for his own sake, but for us—“that they may be one, as we are one,” he prays. That we may be distinct, yet one. This is the beloved community God calls us to be.
When my aunt died in 2006, I flew with my family to Minnesota. On the day of the funeral, the church where she had served was full to overflowing. The word had gotten out about her favorite color, and Gethsemane Lutheran in Oakdale was an ocean of purple. Somewhere between the resounding harmonies of Beautiful Savior, and the twelve different kinds of jello salad at the reception, it struck me that this community was surrounding my family with love. There was the beloved community to which Christ calls us, sharing in each other’s sorrows and joys.
I will not sugar coat the loss. I would rather that Ruth still be here. That my cousins still have their mom. We would all rather, that our relationships were whole, that our hearts would not ache, that we would feel no absence in our lives, no disappointment in each other. But God did not come to earth with eyes closed and ears plugged and say “Let’s just go back to Eden, exactly the way it was.” God comes to the reality of our world as it is, and enters in to our traumas to transform us. It is no coincidence that ten years later, I felt called back to Minnesota, to water the seeds planted deeply in me that day. Long after Easter, the cross still stands reminding us that God is not here to wipe away our suffering as if it had never happened, but to meet us in the breach and bring new life from that place.
Followers of Jesus must have experienced great alienation from the Greco-Roman culture and the Jewish communities they were themselves a part of, even as they began to distinguish themselves as followers of Christ. They must have needed that word at the final sermon from Jesus: That although the world hated them, God would protect them. That they were righteous and beloved, for holding onto the Word that had been revealed to them.
“They do not belong to the world,” Jesus says, “so I have sent them into the world.” (Thanks Jesus.) So it seems, this is where God calls us to be. We are called where we don’t belong. To stand in the breach, in places of fracture, in places marked by absence.
But we are not alone.
Just as Jesus and the Creator and the Spirit are distinct yet one, dancing and sharing in all, we the beloved community are drawn together, distinct, even at odds, yet one in Christ. We are called to gather, to share in our resources and strengths, in our joys and sorrows.
I have seen you gather in this way. When you bring groceries to Eunice. When you celebrate our little ones’ birthdays and baptisms. When you show up to Homework Help with art supplies and snacks. When cook another round of sloppy joe’s and serve it to old and young. When you show up for coffee and tea after Friday prayers, to bring a sign of peace to our Muslim neighbors.
This is the beloved family God has called us to be. And God calls us still further, to share not only with those whom we know, but to those whom we don’t know, or do not want to know.
All this, because the One who gathers us, calls us to gather others. The One who loves us, calls us to love others. The One who moves us, moves in our suffering and from that very place, in our very bodies, brings forth new life. Beloved, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are all mothers now.