The Fifth Week of Easter

Phyllis Anderson—May 9, 2007

John 13: 31-35

The spiritual discipline of liturgical worship keeps us focused on God. The cycles of the lectionary and the seasons of the church year bring us back again and again and again to encounter God’s mighty acts for us and for the world God loves. In the rituals of bath and table we encounter God’s amazing, boundary-breaking love for us.

But these cycles and rituals that tell the story of God can become empty if they don’t connect with the stories of our lives. Our job as leaders of Christian communities—or simply as Christians—is to connect the story of our human lives with the rituals of our tradition and to reweave our rituals to help make sense of our human stories. When combined, story and ritual become the way that faith communities frame our journeys in God.

Michael Aune has given us such a gift today. This lovely liturgy recalls for us the seasons of Church Year in a way that connects them to the particularity of this year and this community—that connects them to our communal story here at PLTS in the 2006-07 academic year, now drawing to a close. Thank you, Michael, for so elegantly rehearsing with us this year of Grace. This is, of course, another year of grace in the ongoing cycle. But it is like no other year, because these exact people—with their particular sorrows and triumphs, their friendships and gifts, their tensions and hopes—will never be here again in the same way.

I am struck with the particularity of a very human story in the Gospel lesson for today. We are taken back to the hours before the betrayal, before the garden, before the arrest, the trial, the cross. Jesus and his disciples are full of life. They are gathered around the table, talking face to face, enjoying the intimacy of their circle of friends, the immediacy of their leader. You can imagine the laughter, the knowing glances, the familiar patterns of conversation, the passing of bread and wine. The flow of unselfconscious conversation among close friends is broken with these poignant words from Jesus: Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

Those of us who know the great cycle of another year of grace can rush ahead to the great affirmation of Easter: He is risen! He is risen indeed! We can imagine this circle of friends reunited on the beach one morning eating fish. We can fast forward to the Ascension and hear this same Jesus say to his disciples: Lo, I am with you always—even to the close of the age.

Yes, we know that this is not really the end. But we also know that it will never be the same again for Jesus and John and Matthew and James and Andrew and Peter and the rest. It will never be the same for this company of men who have traveled the dusty roads of Galilee together, who have talked long into the night, who have shared countless meals, who drank from the same cup, who have grown so familiar they can finish one another’s sentences. That easy intimacy will end. “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.”

We know it will never be quite the same for this community of saints at PLTS who have walked together this year from the closing weeks of the Pentecost season up through the fifth Sunday of Easter. Today…

  • We will bid Farewell and Godspeed to the students who will graduate this Saturday: the regular fourth years, those from other seminaries who have been here for one Lutheran year, the TEEM graduates and other certificate students, the GTU MA’s and PhD’s. I hope you will think of yourselves always as part of PLTS, but never again quite the same as this year.
  • We bid Farewell and Godspeed to those going out on internships. We look forward to welcoming you back, but it will not be the same when you return. A new community will have to form with new players.
  • We bid Farewell and Godspeed to first year students going home for the summer or off to do CPE in dozens of different places. You will come back changed, and this will be a changed community for you.
  • We bid Farewell and Godspeed to friends who have been part of this community for this year who are making other decisions and taking other directions in their lives.
  • We begin to think about bidding Farewell and Godspeed to faculty and staff whose retirements are on the horizon: Ed Yee and Barbara Schaefer and Lois McGee. This place will never be the same again without them.

What do we do, then, in these poignant moments when we become so keenly aware that time is running out? It is natural to withdraw, to avoid the pain. But the Gospel lesson points us in a different direction.

Jesus told his friends that time was running out. And then he gave them a commandment—that they should love one another. “Love one another, just as I loved you.” The writer of the Gospel of John puts these two sayings of Jesus right on top of each other. I am with you just a little while. Love one another. This is how they will know that you are my followers—by the way you love one another.

Love is what we do with the time that is left. There is an intensity that comes with the awareness of the shortness of time. Let us then love all the more, all the time.

Let me share with you a prayer called the Aztec Prayer to God. It may be familiar to some of you—especially if you had Herb’s course on death this spring. I cannot attest to its Aztec origins, but I know the authenticity of the longing it expresses.

Oh, only for so short a while have you loaned us to each other
because we take form in your act of drawing us,
and we breath in your singing us.

But only for a short while have you loaned us to each other
because even a drawing cut in crystalline obsidian fades,
and the green feathers, the crown of feathers, of the Quetzal birds lose their color,
and even the sounds of the waterfall die out in the dry season.

So, we too, because only for a short while have you loaned us to each other.

O divine Parent and gift Giver,
let me not take those I love for granted,
failing to remember that you have only loaned them to me
for a very short while.

Help me, this day, you who are absolute love,
to love those you have loaned to me,
as if tomorrow you would call them home to you.

Let me not take them for granted
or be blind to the marvel of their presence,
to the sound of their voices,
the joy of their companionship.
or the beauty of their love.

May their minor faults and failings
which often cause me discomfort
be seen as trivial transgressions
compared to the marvel of the gift
that you have loaned to me
for only a short while.

Love is what we do with the time that is left.

Love is what we do right now and through the remaining days while this particular community is still intact.

Take time—of the time that is left—to bless your friends, but not only your friends.

Take time to connect with someone you never got to know as well as you wanted to.

Take time to mend a relationship that has gotten frayed. Do it now, while there is time.

Love is what we do when time is running out.

Love is what you will do again, in another place, through another year of grace that will come new from the Father’s hand full of promise and rare particularity.

Jesus said to his friends: “Little Children, I am with you only a little longer.“ And then he went out into the night. He gave up his life for his friends so that we will never be alone. In him, you are connected to an ongoing cycle of life and love that will not end. You are held in love by God through all the seasons. Through all the changes and losses and new beginnings, you can trust God’s abiding love to sustain you—just as you are—right now, in all of your vivid, astounding, fleeting and flawed particularity.