Today's eMo consists of two meditations on texts for this Sunday's sermon. The first is the usual sermon prep eMo; the second has a focus on the Church's provision of service to the poor. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution.
Where I am going, you cannot come.
That's what hurts: we can't see them. Talk with them as we used to. We can't touch them. We can't exchange the hundreds of daily signals by which we knew each other: the quizzical eyebrow, the secret, slight downturn of the lips, a laugh in disguise. We can't hear them say the things we knew they would say, and they can't surprise us with something we didn't know they even thought.
It seems to us that the dead leave us with only the past to comfort us. You have so many good memories, our friends say at the wake, and that is true. But it is not enough.
It takes some time before it you notice that there's more afoot than just memories. Where I am going, you cannot come, Jesus tells his friends: He's going somewhere. They don't cease to exist. They go somewhere.
Many people today have never seen anyone die. At the moment of death, we see with some shock that, suddenly, nobody is home. The undertaker's ministrations work to conceal that fact, but we are not fooled: they look beautiful, but their beauty taunts us. Their folded hands are cold. Their chests no longer rise and fall. Nobody is home.
But somebody has gone. Someone has left the body. Its spirit, no longer at home in it, is not nowhere. It has gone somewhere else.
The weeks and months and years that follow see the gradual dawning of a new experience of them for those of us who cannot follow. We still miss all the things we no longer have, but we have some things that are new. It is as if they were within us now, as if their eyes looked with our eyes upon all the things we see. It is as if there were another plane of experience, a parallel plane: as if they saw and heard, in their place and in their way, all we see and hear. And it is also as if their living of these things were calmer than we remember them being when they were here, as if they knew the ending we do not know. And they do.
As time passes and the initial wound of loss continues to heal, they come closer in their subtle new way. Certain things make us feel close to them, make them present to us. What would she think of this, we wonder at first, but later we find ourselves wondering what she thinks.
And here is the meditation for a sermon that focusses on the Church's mission to the poor.
For Easter V, May 9
…they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him.
The early Church sounds awfully familiar: conflict, jealousy, accusation. No sooner do people receive new life in Christ, it seems, but they begin to attack each other. This is church?
Yup. Was then, is now. Wish we were different, but it sounds like we’ve tended toward argument and controversy since the beginning. The Jews before us were the same. An old Jewish saying puts it succinctly: Two Jews. Three opinions.
The fight then was about whether or not Gentiles should be part of the young Church. To many Jewish Christians, it seemed obvious that following Christ was simply a way of being a more faithful Jew, a way that should be practiced within the exclusive fellowship of the Jewish people. But to the newcomers, this was by no means clear. Being Jewish was an accident of birth and culture, and shouldn't be expected of people who didn't come equipped with it. We know how it ended: Gentile converts didn't have to become Jews first, the Church widened, and it has reflected the culture of every place to which it the faith has been carried.
But they didn't know how it would end. The controversy was angry and frightening. It looked to some of them as if the whole enterprise would be snuffed out by its own infighting. We know all about this, too: it looks that way to some of us when we behold the controversies of our own day. How on earth are we ever going to hold together through all this, we wonder, frightened and angry.
I cant make predictions about how our strife will end. Nobody can. But I do know one thing: none of the issues that divide us relieve us of our obligation to the poor. Conservative people have this obligation and liberal people have it, and so does everybody in between. When Jesus himself was asked what His followers would look like, He was clear: we would be the ones who fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty, who visited the sick and those in prison.
Episcopal Relief and Development is emphatically uninterested in our political divisions. There are no litmus tests, for donor or diocese or recipient. A program must be directed at people in need and administered by the Church where those people live. That is the only test ERD cares about.
Maybe its time, now, to focus on these things. People may not believe the same things about matters of doctrine, even important ones. They may not even agree on what matters of doctrine are. But we can all agree on this much: we are all called to serve people in need.