Easter 5 May 22, 2011

Acts 7:55-60

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

“I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

The professor who taught me criminal law was scarcely older than his students. He was brilliant and charming and kind. He and his family had been refugees from Hungary, whether from the Nazis or the Communists I’m not sure. They were Jewish. While still a young man, Paul Bator was diagnosed with cancer, which progressed quickly to his brain. One day he awoke totally deaf, not long after totally blind. Shortly before he died, he wrote a letter to his friends, which one of them shared with me. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” he said. “I have everything I need: chocolate and raspberries and Jesus.”

I often think of his words. In this life of change, where all the things we build up and count on are so fragile, where life itself is a temporary gift, one day to be taken away from us: what are the things we need? Well, maybe chocolate, maybe raspberries – we would each have our list of little comforts that are nice to have. But need, really need – what would we list except Jesus, who cannot be taken away? “I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

In our fifty-day walk through Easter, with the meaning of resurrection unfolded before us week by week in these Sunday readings, we come today to a kind of turning point. The readings begin to look ahead, not back: to Ascension and Pentecost, not the empty tomb and the appearances to the disciples. Jesus is preparing us. He will be taken away, lifted up. And yet, in this very act he will remain, be still with us, indeed be present in a more spacious, more enduring way.

There is nothing sentimental in this. The reading from Acts, recounting the death by stoning of the first martyr, the deacon Stephen, reminds us that the horrors of life go on. Violence and opposition, injustice and persecution – Jesus does not take these away. A brilliant young law professor can die of a cancer that robs him of his powers. You and I can lose jobs and loved ones, our health, our savings, our homes, our lives. We can kill Osama bin Laden, but other Osama bin Ladens will arise. The world did not end yesterday, with a few of us safely raptured out of the trials of real life. That’s not what Jesus is about. Life goes on, as real as ever.

Likewise the mission we are called to as Christians continues: we “the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, God’s own people,” “called out of darkness into his wonderful light,” as St. Peter says, not for our own glorification, but to press on with the work of Jesus in the world. The Letters of Peter are all about building up and maintaining the structures that we call the Church. They remind us that having Jesus is not some sort of private possession. We cannot be Christians without community and its institutions, without supporting and reforming and purifying them: a work that is never done.

What these readings, and those we will hear in the remaining weeks of Easter, are telling us is that Jesus is present with us so that we may be strengthened to live in the real world, so that we may give ourselves to community building. Jesus is present with us so that we may be like Jesus. It is as simple and as powerful as that.

Inevitably this year we of Holy Cross hear these readings and celebrate the Great Fifty Days of Easter with our own situation in mind: my retirement on the Day of Pentecost, the search process for a new vicar, the interim over the summer before that new priest comes. Transitions can be fragile times, but they are also – as these readings will keep reminding us – times of great opportunity for growth. Personal growth and institutional growth.

Anne and I in our prayer will be looking for the new ways Jesus will be present with us, as we establish new patterns of retirement and settle into a new parish. And I urge you to do the same, because this transition is a time when Jesus can be with you in a larger, fuller sense. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” – and this doesn’t just refer to heaven, though we hear this passage at so many funerals. It speaks also of the roominess of life in God here and now.

Look for all the new dwelling places Jesus will open up for you in these coming months. Look for the new ways Jesus will be present to you in Arthur and Darrell, your interim clergy, and in the person you will welcome as your new vicar. Pray about the ways Jesus can be present through you to them! This is not a time for fear. Not a time to dwell on loss. Quite the contrary: this is Easter time, time to explore the presence of the Resurrected Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit.

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