5/26/2019 Sixth Sunday of Easter The text is John 14:23-29.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s 3 am on a cold winter day. Patchy snow covers the landscape as loudspeakers overhead blare telling everyone to get to their places. Surrounded by sandbags, concrete barriers and roughly 10,000 soldier, sailors, airman and marines, Bagram Air Base has flipped a switch and turned from a deployed city in sleep, to a sea of green and tan military awaiting further direction. Some just woken from a few moments of sleep, others leaving their duties to attend to more pressing concerns, all focused on the events that are about to unfold. Down the 3 mile main road of this Afghanistan base, standing shoulder to shoulder men and women in arms, await to pay their respects to a fallen comrade. Soon, the lights of emergency vehicles can be seen slowly making their way up the boulevard, leading a flatbed trailer to an awaiting C-17 cargo plane on its way back to the United States. On the trailer are 3 caskets draped in U.S. Flags and as the trailer approaches the lines of servicemen lining the streets, each pays their respects by saluting sharply the men and women who have paid the ultimate price. Memorial Day is about remembering these fallen heroes, and honoring their sacrifices on our behalf. (adapted from Scott Jensen’s sermon on Memorial Day)
This is a weekend in which we remember. We remember those who gave their all for our freedom. For, we should not forget that freedom comes at a price and we should not forget those who put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect those of us who go to the beach, attend parades, eat our hotdogs, and frolic in the sun this weekend – nor should we forget the one who sacrificed everything on our behalf – Jesus Christ.
Now, death for those cut down in enemy territory usually comes quickly, without much warning and without an opportunity to say final “good-byes” – but that was not so for Jesus. Jesus knew that he was going to die. Jesus knew what type of death he was facing. Jesus did not shy away from what was coming, but did what he could to prepare his followers for his demise. But, how do you prepare a person for your impending death? It is difficult enough for us to prepare ourselves for death when we know it is around the corner. It is next to impossible for us to prepare those we love, our children and our spouse, our grandchildren or parents or friends, who will experience our death, knowing that there is nothing they can do other than stand by and watch. We may write our last will and testament. We may write a final note, make a final phone call, say a final “good-bye” and “I love you,” but none of this prepares loved ones for the experience of loss and the feeling of guilt and fear and abandonment which can accompany a death.
I have seen people face death with courage. I have seen people face death with fear. I have seen people face death with faith in God that gave them hope that there was something more in store for them. But, I have never seen anyone face death the way Jesus faced it – with the power of God’s promise and the gift of God’s grace.
Even with these in his treasure chest, Jesus had a tough task in front of him as he tried to prepare his friends for what was about to happen. He wanted them to rejoice with him as he was about to return home into the arms of his waiting Father. At the same time, Jesus knew that joy would be the last emotion that his disciples would experience. In order to help his disciples get through the impending crisis that his death would cause and to empower them to serve in his absence, Jesus gave them a couple of promises and two gifts – a couple of promises which would be fulfilled and two gifts to enable his disciples of every generation to find hope even in his absence.
What were these promises? What are these gifts? The first promise of Jesus is that of love – a love which will extend from Jesus himself, through the Father and into the lives of those who are left behind. This is an eternal love. It is not a passive, warm-fuzzy feeling, but a love which fuses itself onto every fiber of a person. You might say that it is like a good marriage, a special bond in which the two individuals become one for a life time. But while no marriage is without challenges, this marriage was going to be especially difficult as the spouse was going to absent for years. So, in order to help the disciples stay firm in God’s love and the life of faith that keeps Jesus’ word alive, Jesus promised to be present through the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, which was to become as much a part of the disciples lives as their own spirit and will. This gift was no ordinary gift for it came with a purpose. The Advocate, the holy and life-sustaining spirit, was to teach everything that was needful and to remind the disciples of all that Jesus had said. So, the Advocate was sent by Jesus to help us to believe and trust in God’s promises and to reassure us that we are not alone.
While the promise of everlasting love and the gift of Advocate should be enough to help the disciples overcome fear and doubt, Jesus had more in mind. Jesus went one step further and gave the gift of his peace. The peace that Jesus left us is not the type of peace the soldiers in the field fight to deliver to you and me. The peace that Jesus left is not the absence of hostility. In fact, it can be described as just the opposite. For, it is a peace which enables us to find joy in the midst of struggles, and a peace which helps us find stability in the midst of change. This peace can turn what Martin Luther King Jr. calls “dark yesterdays into oases for tomorrow.” For, the peace of our Lord is a peace which thrives when all other things fall and fade with time. The peace is found in the hope and promises, the grace and salvation of God, which are forever.
Finally, in the midst of impending death, Jesus made one final promise. He told his disciples, “I am going away and I am coming to you.” With these words, Jesus acknowledged that there will be a time of separation. There will be a time of physical absence – but that time will not be forever. For Jesus came; he lived among us; he died for our sake; he rose; he went to the Father; and he will come again. This is Jesus promise that he will never abandon us.
And so, in his final discourse, his “good-bye” to his disciples, before his impending death, Jesus promised an eternal love and a time of return. To help his disciples believe this, during absence he gave them the gift of the Advocate and a peace beyond that which the world can give. May you remember the promises and gifts that Jesus gave as he faced death so that we could have freedom of life. May you find comfort and encouragement in these gifts and promises made by Jesus to those left to face the struggles of this world. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.