We come to the place in our liturgical journey where Jesus is absent from the disciples. He is gone. And the community he gathered and nurtured must now figure out how to continue and live out the message he gave to them.
Yesterday we laid to rest Hazel Mapes’ ashes next to Jack’s in the columbarium. It was surreal attaching the plates with their names engraved on them. I found myself thinking, you are together again, but also, you are both gone. No longer sitting in your usual pew. No longer standing to share a praise report. No longer standing along the side of the church ready to welcome anyone who wished a gentle hand and heartfelt prayer filled with faith.
What does this part of the story tell us about the realities of living after and being empowered following the departure of beloved elders and “anam caras”, those who have been beloved friends for our soul?
As Jesus prepared for his own departure he offered specific prayers for those whom he was about to leave behind. He prayed for their unity. Unity with one another, with himself, and with the blessed father. Perhaps Jesus recognized, that as long as he was present, in the body, he was the glue that kept them all together. He was the unifying factor. But now that he was leaving he prayed that they would be united beyond his presence.
He prayed that they would be one. He prayed that would be united around the spirit and teachings that he would be leaving with them. He knew that without the strength of community, they would lose their light and salt for the world.
Community thrives on a sense of shared purpose and of mutual love. Jesus is quoted often, “love one another as I have loved you.” I believe that Jesus believed, that this is what manifested the kingdom of God in our midst… it would be when we chose to love one another, to make room for another in our lives, to take the time to be with one another, talk to one another, pray for one another, share meals with one another, serve one another and the our neighbors in the world. Jesus was concerned, like any community builder is concerned…what will happen when I am no longer with you? Will it all end? Will the magic cease, the community segregate, the vitality ebb? And so Jesus prayed that that who would be left in his absence, that they would be united to the same source of eternal grace and love and power that he drew upon.
In our conversation in vestry, it was reported that there was a fair amount of different ideas and perceptions as to the reason we suspended the three service schedule to two services. There are a number of reasons that were influencing my own motivation and I believe this prayer that Jesus was praying for his disciples summarizes a lot of the reason. We had come to a time of needing to be united. The three services had segregated us.
In the vestry discussion it was reported that we simply suspended the 11:11. And it is understandable why persons would feel that way. But the truth is, we did not only suspend the 11:11. We suspended the 7:30am and the 9am services as well. The intention was to bring us together for a greater synthesis of unity. We had functioned as three services for twenty years. And there were elders and pillars, and guides who had lead, sustained, and nourished our three distinct communities. But we had come to a time and a place where all three distinct congregations needed to come together for the sake of renewed unity and insight and inspiration and empowered ministry as one parish.
That has been my prayer and my hope and it remains. That we, the church together in this place, would be united in love. That we would love, and serve, and dream, and pray, and work together. That there would be mutual appreciation and openness and regard for all that is the parish that I have loved and served for the past eighteen years. This is the place that we have come, the place of coming together and being united around the deeper and more eternal things that Jesus prayed for us some two thousand years ago. He prayed that our sense of community would not be determined by liturgy rites or service times or musical styles or instruments. Our unity would be around the reality that we really loved one another, and we really cared for one another because God had loved us and called us to be the church, to offer the prayers, to gather and make the Eucharist and proclaim the sacrifice of love, that God makes manifest in Christ Jesus. This is why we are together as two instead of segregated as three.
Jesus, along with Jack and Hazel, are praying for us, to be united around the deep and eternal things that unites God with this world. Jesus and Jack and Hazel are praying for us, that we would love one another as much as they loved us… and if we accept that prayer and this time…and bring together all that we have become. Well, as Julian of Norwich, said, “All will be well. All will be well. All manner of being will be well.