“The Father and I are one.” These are the very last words we hear in our Gospel reading from John this morning: ‘The Father and I are one.’ How incredibly important are these words? They are the very foundation of hope not just for each one of us, but often more importantly to us, for those we love. As I talked about in Remember back to Epiphany. I talked about the fact that Jesus Christ had come into the world to transform it. And only he alone – its creator, the creator of all that exists – was capable of changing it. We of course are in the midst of celebrating this now in Easter. Jesus took on everyone’s sin on the Cross, he descended into hell where sin leads, and he overcame it, he conquered it, conquered death, through his faithfulness, and then he rose from hell, having vanquished sin. And these last few weeks, we have been witness once again to his presence amongst the early disciples. Having left the linen wrappings of death in the tomb, out he went the first and the last, the creator and redeemer, to show his followers who knew him, that yes, the world really had changed: the dead are not dead, they are made alive in him.
We hear this story today in the Book of Acts. Tabitha, a faithful disciple of Jesus, fell ill and died. They began to prepare her body for burial, for this is what we do when someone we love dies of course. And yet … and this is pretty darn important, along with this preparation for death, some fellow disciples sent out for Peter to come to see Tabitha. Why? Why would they do this? Well remember the story we’ve been following so far, it’s one that Paul will recount in 1 Corinthians 15: God sent his Son into the world, that Son died for our sakes and released us from sin when he rose from the dead. This wasn’t simply a great feat of magic. It was a fulfillment of God’s promise to gather us; to come for us; to never leave us. And so Paul says in 1 Corinthians that he appeared to some disciples and then to many others. And we hear that he sent his disciples out again and again to share this reality: his forgiveness of sins, his promise to raise us from the dead into new and everlasting life with him; to reconcile us to life with God.
Of course this gift of life that we have a foretaste of now, something promised to us in perfection and fullness of relationship with God in the life to come, well this can seem so far off that it’s almost easy to take for granted. To be perfectly frank, we often don’t think much about how Jesus turned the world upside down with his resurrection, simply because where we live here in Etobicoke, we are quite shielded from some of the worst atrocities of sin – things like holocausts, starvation, massive violence that sweeps through and destroys whole cities. And because we don’t face the struggles that so many people throughout history have – those for whom death, violence, danger, disease, was a common and regular occurrence – grace can seem like a quaint add on to what we have already accomplished. And this is so much so the case that many folks under 60 simply don’t go to Church at all. They see no need, no reason. They see nothing in Jesus’s claim that he and the Father are one, that evokes a sense of desire, hunger, passion, and hope. What need have we for hope.
Let me stop just there. What need have we for hope? We heard from our speaker, Carol, last week, that the number one reason kids end up in bad situations, on the streets, it isn’t abuse. It’s neglect. For all we have as a culture and a society, for all the material things we can buy, for all the million dollar homes and hundred thousand dollar cars we’re surrounded by in this neighborhood, far too many children here (and I mean young children) experience neglect, not necessarily intentional neglect, but neglect that often comes because parents cannot simultaneously work, one, two, sometimes three jobs, spend all day and evening commuting, somehow find a way to prepare meals and then get the kids off to one of the numerous activities the kids must do if they wish to ‘be successful in life.’ And because so many, and not just young kids, but people into their 20s and even 30s, have had their lives directed by a whole society, culture, language, and vision of ‘success,’ of meaning and of purpose, built and bent to the possession of more goods, if they do not seem to be achieving these things from extremely early ages, if they seem not to be keeping up, if they seem not to be driven to the same purpose of possession as others, they begin to feel a sense of shame. And that shame builds over time.
That shame comes, and I can tell you this from personal experience, from not knowing who your creator is. Not knowing that you – the very particular person you are called to be – was made by and is loved by God who sent his Son into the world to transform it and your destiny, so that he might reclaim you; hold you, comfort you, sometimes tear you down so that he can build you up into the person you are intended to be. Shame comes from all sorts of very concrete circumstances as Carol said last week (maybe you’re part of the lgbtq community, maybe you weren’t the most intelligent, maybe you weren’t very good looking, maybe your parents were harsh and judgmental, maybe you had some strange quirks, maybe you weren’t well liked). But beneath the surface of all of these things lies something we are often unwilling to talk about. We rather like many aspects of our society, I know I do. But these have come with a cost: a sense of self sufficiency; a sense that we do not need God.
I have heard it said that we are suffering from an epidemic of depression and loneliness in this country. I believe it. If our hope is anchored to things that figuratively blow away with the wind – material possessions, work, pensions, hobbies, even frail human relationships – we have no foundation from which to recover from the inevitable struggles, loses, fears, physical and emotional traumas – that we will encounter. The foundation isn’t merely a transcendent God. Rather this God created us in himself through his Son when we wanted to throw our with him relationship away; thinking that somehow, the sort of world that we have created and live in here in Toronto, or in the United States, or England, or in Rome, or Greece or Egypt during these society’s respective ‘golden eras,’ would be a utopia. It is not my friends. And we now see this well. The question is, what will we do about it? Some have proposed that the Church must change to meet the culture. Really? Others have proposed that we move away from the culture and create little Christian hives of a sort with home schooling and special worship groups.
I want to suggest something else to you. Many of you have lived long, long lives. You’ve watched a time of blooming for the Church and its subsequent massive decline across all denominations. You’ve had children, and grand children and sometimes great grandchildren. You have loved and loved deeply. And you have lost. I know you have lost for I have seen it, I have been in the midst of it, and I have seen how you push on, often, sometimes too often I think, burying your suffering and pain from others, attempting to remain strong and just carrying on. I get that. But it is also a product of a culture bent on, ‘keeping up appearances,’ of not allowing the messiness of death, pain, anguish, loss, doubt, anger, hurt, and yes, the hope you have found, to show through to others. We have been taught, particularly those of us who live/have lived a fairly middle class life, that being overly demonstrative or sharing our struggles, is somehow problematic. My friends, it is not. Hear again what happens when the disciples lose a beloved friend and colleague: “preparing her body for death” these folks went out seeking Peter, seeking help, asking him to come and to be with them in their loss, to maybe help in any way he can, to provide his own gift, to share of himself and his gifting. They went out in a hope that was met with the embrace of love, the fulfillment of God’s promise. It is precisely this that Jesus brought and in which he makes us and in which he commands us to go out into the world. Not in some false sense of strength or power, not living in accordance with the standards set out for us by this world, but in love received and still hoping, still pressing, still needing, being shared in our own strengths and frailties, with those whose own suffering might be buffered by the hope and love that enabled us to share with them. In conclusion, let me read to you a fine reflection on these passages from colleagues in ministry:
“Love works in this way. Love gives and returns and shares in endless exchange. Love has a voice and love gives a name. “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died” (Acts 9:36-37). Peter, acting in persona Christi, addressed her by name. “Tabitha, get up” (Acts 9:40). Even his actions are in Christ. “He gave her his hand and helped her up” (Acts 9:41). Receiving the hand of Peter, she received the hand of Christ, who then handed her to a Father from whose protection she could not fall. “No one will snatch [her] out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). She is presented alive in the life of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Her new life is much more than resuscitation. She is alive in the love that holds all things in being, for the Father has given everything to the Son. She is named in love, as are all things. “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Ps. 147:4). The love given to her is the same love that gives life and being to creation from moment to moment.
On the deathbed of our sin, weighed down by a burden of guilt and shame, we wait and languish. Jesus comes and speaks each and every name, and reaches with the strong hand of his grace, pulling us up from death to life, life everlasting, life evermore. He brings us to singing and blessing and wisdom and honor and thanksgiving forever and ever. Take comfort in this, take your purpose and your hope from this reality my dear little flock. I know many of you have lost spouses and children, mothers and fathers. Don’t hold in the pain, or the struggle, it is not yours alone to bear. God gave to you his grace so that you might be lifted up and in that, that you might lift up others so they can see his eternal light and life. AMEN.”