"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." - John 14:15-21
I remember one of the first funerals I ever attended.
I was small, a little kid. And SO from my height, the view was mostly of people’s wallet bulges and shiny shoes.
From that height there was also a distinct smell—a sort of moving cloud of women’s perfumes, Old Spice, hot coffee, and flowers, all swirling together over the heads of all the kindergartners.
I remember going up front with some relative in a line to get “the look,” up by the open casket,
and I remember standing at the casket reminded me of standing at a counter at Chuck E Cheese’s. Even when I stood on my toes it was hard to see what was meant to be on display for everyone.
When we made it through the line I went back to my seat.
And finally there, from my seat, from across the room,
I could actually see the body, lying there, arms crossed,
(the way they lay bodies),
as if it was sleeping.
I don’t remember who this body belonged to,
I don’t remember who was the widow or the sons or the parent.
But I do remember this:
I remember fantasizing throughout the service.
I remember sitting there, staring across the room at the body, imagining;
imagining that if I just prayed enough,
or maybe thought the exact right thoughts about Jesus or the Trinity at just the exact right time,
that maybe if believed really hard with every muscle of belief that I had developed by age 4 or 5 or 6…
that maybe, somehow,
if I felt and believed the right way,
that that body that was lying there,
that maybe, possibly, that body would sit up,
that it would take a gasp of air,
and come back to life like Lazarus.
And then maybe the funeral would be less of a sad mourning of a departure,
and more of a happy reunion.
It really would be the celebration that everyone kept insisting that this funeral was.
If only I faithed the faith correctly.
And so I tried.
I really really really tried.
I closed my eyes and prayed with all the emotion I could muster.
I convinced myself that it would happen.
It WILL HAPPEN!
As soon as I’m done with this prayer and I
But instead we sang Amazing Grace, we received the blessing,
and we drove home.
No easter lillies,
smelling only of perfumed hugs and hot coffee and old man aftershave, listening to oldies on the radio.
To be really honest,
even to this day,
at any funeral,
whether I am spectating or presiding myself,
I have the exact same fantasy.
I know it won’t happen—we’ll probably not.
I don’t allow myself to disbelieve completely. That feels wrong, guilty…
But I do—I get this anxious/hopeful feeling that whoever it is we are gathered around…
maybe, possibly that might actually happen.
Maybe this person will sit up!
Maybe everyone will feel a little better.
And everything will immediately be good again.
If we just faith the faith in the right way…
But instead we sing Amazing Grace, we receive the blessing,
and we drive home, smelling of perfumed hugs and hot coffee and old man aftershave,
and listening to oldies on the radio.
Some scholars have suggested that unlike, the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
that all of John’s Gospel,
was written more intentionally in the light of Jesus’ Resurrection.
What does this mean?
It means that, perhaps, the Gospel itself, though it has Jesus addressing the disciples, though it is written kind of like a history book,
that it is really also meant as sort of an address to the entire church who, though they lived in the light of the experience of the Resurrection (some of them, arguably, had actually experienced the resurrected Christ),
also lived in a time after the Ascension—the anniversary of which we will remember Thursday.
Sure, Jesus was risen, body and all.
But even so, only really long enough to share a few meals, and to once again say “goodbye.”
Jesus, the One they left their families for,
their homes, and their jobs, the One who healed them and fed them,
the One they had put every ounce of their hope in without abandon,
had suddenly left them.
And not only was he gone, but his followers were now being persecuted.
His followers, now, were always on edge. They didn’t know when the guards would storm in and they’d be gone, taken away…
They were instructed (as we read in 1 Peter) to always have a defense prepared. “A reason for their hope.” Because it was that bad. Because they never knew when they’d be dragged into a courtroom or before a throne. And be put on trial.
“Satan prowls like a roaring lion,” they said to one another. Be careful out there. It’s dangerous.
The community that Jesus had taught to love “the least of these” had become, in a sense those very “least of these.” They had become a persecuted minority. They were in hiding. And because of that they were in close quarters—they were struggling not only with Jesus’ command to love, but also trying to figure out how to keep loving one another without much personal space.
How difficult it must have been to have seen and touched Jesus, or even to have come to follow Jesus after the Resurrection,
to find hope in Jesus and his message of love and liberation from all that would deal death,
and to also be the target of violence and hate.
It certainly must have felt, from time to time,
like these followers had been abandoned,
like their mother, who longed to gather them under her wing and comfort them, had gone away.
And so these communities, in light of the Resurrection, and in light of Jesus going away, write the gospel:
“I will not leave you orphaned.”
“I will send you an advocate.”
“You will have a sure defense.”
“The same Spirit that raised me from death now dwells in you,” your Advocate, your Comforter.
“I am the Resurrection and the life.”
“Those who live in love live in God.” God lives in you.
The Spirit is with you.
“I am coming to you.”
“Have good courage.” “Be at peace.” “Peace be with you.”
In the midst of the trials of everyday life,
I imagine the early disciples wished and prayed and hoped and faithed with every ounce of faith they thought they had that
“Please, God, send Jesus back.”
To feed us and to heal us.
To love us.
To gather us as a hen gathers her own.
Let us touch his hands and feel his side.
Let us eat with him and laugh with him and dream with him his beautiful dreams.
But they didn’t get that.
Instead they got a promise:
Things will be different,
you won’t be alone.
Though they longed for Jesus,
and celebrated at every gathering a meal of communion and community in remembrance of him,
though the presence of his absence loomed heavily in their memories and in their hearts,
Jesus promised not a return to what was, a Paradise-Place or a Golden-Day,
but only strength and accompaniment to endure what is now,
and hope for the future, for what might yet be to come.
A reunion. A celebration.
“I am no longer present, in flesh of my own,” he seemed to say.
I am no longer a particular, individual, human body.
But I am present.
I am present in your body.
I am present in every act of love, in every movement toward liberation.
I am present in every attempt toward healing, feeding, and community.
In all these gestures of love, I am there.
For I am love. When you love, I live in you.
The body might not sit up in the casket—not right now.
We sing Amazing Grace.
We receive a blessing.
And we carry on, called to Christ’s mission of liberating and reconciling love, clinging to the promise
that those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.