Still With You 5-8-16

Today is the last Sunday of Easter, the last Sunday of our official festival of resurrection. We read about Jesus ascension, Jesus leave-taking of the disciples. We have other choices for readings this Sunday, but I notice more and more that I am drawn to these passages of saying goodbye. It’s hard to say farewell, but it’s important to do it well – to tease out what we really say goodbye to, and what we never have to say goodbye to. This comes, of course, also as a tribute to mothers – to mine and to yours.

Luke 24:44-53 Then Jesus said to them, “Remember the words I spoke when I was still with you:  everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms had  to be fulfilled.” Then Jesus opened their minds to the understanding of the scriptures, saying, “That is why the scriptures say that the Messiah  must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. In the Messiah’s name repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnessed of all this. Take note.  I am sending forth what Abba God has promised to you.  Remain here in the city until you are clothed with the power from on high.” Then Jesus took them to the outskirts of Bethany, and with upraised hands blessed the disciples. While blessing them, the savior left them and was carried up to heaven. The disciples worshiped the risen Christ and returned to Jerusalem full of joy. They were found in the Temple constantly, speaking the praises of God.

May 8, 2016.

Still With You

We are always dealing with separation from someone – some kind of goodbye, some kind of loss or distance. The first year of my son’s life, I spent a lot of time with him. My wife and I responded or tried to respond to every need. I know that behavioral psychologists tell us that infants up to the age of a year or two old are still working out the boundaries between themselves and their mother. They are not sure where their needs end and their mother’s life begins. I always assumed that also meant father, but I’m not totally sure about that, and at any rate my wife and I were both working to overcome the separation our child had experienced as an adopted child.

Separation can be really difficult, partly because beside the issues of not knowing where they begin and their parent ends, infants also don’t have a concept of time. For a baby there are two times – “now” and “never.” If they are hungry, saying “I’ll give you food in half an hour” is like saying “You will never be fed.” I was not always that responsive. Sometimes I said “you have to wait.” It’s just hard to know when you are responding correctly.

 

Separation is not just difficult for babies. It is difficult for all of us. In today’s assigned reading from Luke, Jesus is in the process of separating from his disciples. The risen Christ, speaking to the disciples and getting ready to leave them for good, talks about the past, present and future.

About the past, Jesus says, “Remember the words I spoke when I was still with you.” Then he recalls for them the words of the Hebrew scriptures and invites them to understand those words in relation to Christ’s own life and ministry. Remember what I taught you while I was still you. Remember what I gave you. Remember what it was like when I was still with you.

I have found that when I have lost someone, when someone I love has died or left, my tears most often come hardest when I remember the good times I had with him or her, when I remember what they taught me, when I remember the love they gave me and the love I had for them. All those good memories become a poignant well of tears. I say goodbye to the physical presence of that person in my life and honor that presence with my tears.

 

An interesting thing about this passage of course is that the one who is saying these words, Jesus, is still with the disciples. He “when I was still with you” because in one sense he has already left. Yet, the risen Christ is still with them, helping them to remember, reminding them of his love and his life with them. This is true for us as well, of course. We can sometimes feel God in Christ is distant or absent. Yet the Living God is still with us, still teaching us still present to us.

We do well to think about how Christ is present for and with us today. Where do we experience God’s grace and forgiveness today? Where are we finding God’s healing in our brokenness? Where is reconciliation happening? Where is the gift of faith being received? Because it is Mothers’ Day, we might especially notice that grace, forgiveness, healing and love in relation to our mothers. That love may have both a past and present quality to it, depending on where we are in relation to our mothers.

This morning on one of our favorite radio shows, On Being, by Krista Tippet, the tables were turned and Krista Tippett herself was being interviewed. The interviewer asked her where she gets inspiration from in the present – what she reads or listens to. She said she doesn’t read or watch the big news sources anymore because she feels like they are so much about the sensational and the extreme. She said she likes to look for day to day sources of hope and resilience in ordinary people. She likes to look for that hope and make it a habit to look for the hope in every day situations. She said that practice helps her to strengthen and create spiritual muscle memory. That seems like good advice for all of us – to pay attention particularly to what gives us hope and to develop our spiritual muscle memory.

 

Back to our passage this morning, Jesus is clear that the story doesn’t end with this last conversation he is having with his disciples. Even as he takes his leave of the disciples, he tells them “I will still be with you.” There is a future to their relationship. He instructs them to stay in Jerusalem “until you have been clothed with power from on high.” He is inviting them to expect the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – the Spirit which will remain with and be with them always.

A few weeks ago, my mother had a visit from the nurse in the Methodist home where she lives. The nurse pointed to the “T” on her papers and asked her if she knew that the T on the chart meant “terminal.” My mother had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, and the diagnosis made it clear that this is a terminal disease. My brother John was really angry at this nurse for using that word with my mother, afraid that it would discourage her and cause her to stop exercising and stop trying to get better. He said, “I thought the nurse should have told her the ’T’ stood for tough!”

When I checked in with my mother and told her what John had said, her comment was, “Well, I thought they should have said that the T stands for ‘terrific!’” My mother is terrific, and she’s really tough. For Mothers’ Day I sent her this keychain/dog tag, that says “One Tough Mother.”

She’s tough enough to hear the word terminal and face it – even to find it helpful, and also to know that all of us are terminal, and that nothing takes away the past we have had with each other. We are in this strange time right now where we know time is short, so each phone call, each visit, each “I love you” is particularly precious. Though know that the time is short when we can just call each other on the phone any time we want, we know we have a future with each other too. We never lose what we ever really had, and the deep, loving, life-filled relationship we have is precisely what make that future as rich and in fact, eternal.

What if we treasured all our relationships like that? knowing that each moment when we care about each other has an eternal quality to it? That’s especially true with our  deep, close relationships – especially with parents we never wanted to separate from – when we are 2 years old or 62. Christ has overcome death itself, and shown us the truth of his statement, “I will always be with you.” It’s in those close, beautiful, life-giving relationships that we most learn how true that statement is. “I will always be with you.” This is God’s good news

Responsive hymn  2050   Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth