A little over a week ago, as the clergy of the diocese were gathered in conference with our Bishop, we had the distinct pleasure of being joined in that conversation by the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. We got to spend two hours in conversation with him, which was an amazing experience.
The one thing that really struck me in that conversation was the reminder of Good Friday. Why it resonated so much with me was because in this present moment – six weeks on – we feel like we’re still living Good Friday in some respects. It’s as if time stopped yet the world continued to move but we’re not able to get beyond that place of grief and remorse and wondering just what has happened. In this time of pandemic I sense a similarity because we also are isolating in place, there are lockdowns and there are restrictions on our movements; and there’s been uncertainty and inability to make decisions.
For the first time in my life, I imagine that I can sense or guess what the apostles must have felt: an uncertainty and confusion as to what does it mean as one is still standing at the foot of this terror that has occurred upon the cross. This murder, this act of violence being wreaked upon this person. We may view it much the same way, this uncertainty about what comes next as we watch the world being ravaged about us as well.
Now there is a slightly different tension, six weeks on we find ourselves now yearning to return to what is normal. Yet what came up in our conversations with Bishop Curry was this realization that we won’t return to normal, there is no going back. Just as in our theology, Christ died on the cross and there is no going back to what was before; we are at a point in history, an inflection point, a pivot point, and we must discern how to move forward.
There may be so few times in life where we can so fully relate to the apostles’ experience. This morning as we stand here just days after the Ascension we will hear shortly the collect for the day in which the petition is made to God, “do not do not leave us comfortless.” Comfortless, not comfortable, not complacent and at ease, but “do not leave us comfortless”.
We won’t be entirely comfortable, there is uncertainty, and we don’t know precisely what the way forward looks like. However, what we can reflect upon and resolve is to realize that while we don’t know with certainty yet, we may have progressed to that place with the apostles where just before the Ascension Jesus is still teaching and talking to his apostles. Just before he leaves they pose the question, “Lord is this the time?”
Is this the time in which we no longer lock down? Is this the time in which we return to worshipping publicly and in person? Is this the time when we will fill this nave again? Jesus answers, “It is not for you to know.” Can we abide in Jesus’ instruction that it is not for us to entirely know?
Not knowing cuts so hard against our grain. It certainly cuts hard against what we see transpiring about us in media and in public where we want to know! Our individual need to know – to be certain – is outstripping our ability to love, and we are beginning to insist upon our individual rights.
The irony of that for me as I stand here as a Christian and looking back on Good Friday is what would the world look like today if Christ had insisted upon his individual right as the son of God? What if he had chosen to take himself down from the cross and not to offer himself as sacrifice for us and for our redemption? I hesitate to think of what it would be like, yet I know it would be a vastly different world than it is, probably more ordered by our self-interest – our personal preferences.
Instead the example we have is Christ, who gave himself up for us sacrificially. You may say, well it was just a one-time thing, he didn’t mean to do it.” But no, Jesus told us on Maundy Thursday, about 45 days ago, at the Last Supper when he had washed the apostles’ feet, he gave us his final commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Have you ever unpacked this commandment and its consequences? Because the example that he gives us is death on the cross, offering ourselves and abandoning our own self-interest in the interest of the common good. This I think is where we find ourselves in this time of pandemic; are we putting our own interests so far ahead of the common interest of those around us and those we profess to love in the interest of our own preferences?
May we in this time of waiting, where self-interest seems prepared to set aside the common good all of God’s children; may we in this time reflect upon Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” Just as Elijah left behind his mantle as he ascended into heaven in the flaming chariot, the mantle that fell to the ground for Elisha to take up, we too as disciples of Christ, followers of Jesus, in our baptismal covenant have taken up the mantle that Christ left for us, “to love one another as I have loved you.” May we in this time of waiting reflect upon the mantle that has been left to us, and may that be our guide as we move forward. In Christ’s name I ask. Amen.