A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch
at Christ Church, Reading, PA
Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 1, 2014
At the Celebration of the Covenant Relationship between Christ Episcopal Church and Trinity Lutheran Church in Reading, PA
Acts 1:6-14 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 John 17:1-11
As I was driving my sixteen-year-old to her trumpet lesson last week, I realized that in another six months I would no longer be on chauffeur duty. She will be driving herself--to trumpet, to play rehearsals, to field hockey games, and outings with friends. I actually enjoy driving my daughters to their activities and appointments. I could do with out the hectic scheduling, but I find caring for them in this particular manner satisfying.
“I will miss this,” I tell her.
“So will I,” she says, “I will miss our conversations.”
And there it is—a particular kind of time spent together that will not longer be a part of our relationship. “What will you do with the time,” she queries. But I am thinking what will I do with the space.
We are surrounded by leave-takings. In this season in particular, students of all ages are finishing school, leaving behind teachers, friendships, and the past year for good or bad. High school, college, and other graduations crowd our calendars. Some students will be leaving home or moving on to jobs and adult lives beyond the purview of their families. Parents and siblings and friends will be left with the space that that person has occupied.
Today we also encounter the leave-taking of Jesus, “Father, the hour has come.” What kind of space does Jesus leave behind? In fact today we dance around two farewells of Jesus. In the Gospel we hear Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples at the end of the last supper as he is preparing for his death. He leaves his disciples with words of comfort, and the promise that they will not be abandoned. He also leaves them with a final prayer, a parting gift to those he loves. He calls them into the grace and mystery of eternal life, praying to God, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.”
In Acts we encounter Jesus’ final leave-taking as he ascends into heaven to be with the Father. Here his parting words are ones of commission, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” As he departs and the disciples are gazing up toward heaven, two messengers admonish those with him, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” They are reminded to stop looking where Jesus has gone and to get on with the business of being Jesus’ people in the world. And their first order of business is to be constant in prayer. Prayer and commissioning. As artist and minister Jan Richardson points out, “In a world where leavings and endings often carry a sense of abandonment, Jesus somehow manages to make an art of departure." (www.paintedprayerbook.com/2012/05/07/easter-6-abide-in-my-love/)
So, what do we do with the space that comes next? In our church year, we recognize that we are in a kind of in-between time. We are still in the Easter season, but we are also in that liminal space between Ascension and Pentecost. This is the time after Jesus has ascended into heaven and before the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is a time of ambiguity and waiting. Ten days that are still a part of the Great Fifty days of Easter, but enough of their own kind of space that we can call this time Ascensiontide. As writer, mystic, and priest Susanne Guthrie writes, “Ascensiontide is the most liminal time of the church year. Here you learn the skill of loving God and uniting in community at a time of ambiguity and uncertainty and waiting.” (www.edgeofenclosure.org/easter7a).
Loving God and uniting in community at a time of ambiguity and uncertainty and waiting.
Loving God and uniting in community. Surely this is what this Covenant service with Trinity and Christ Church is all about. For the past twenty-eight years, your two congregation have made the effort to live more deeply into your relationship with Christ by working together. Together you have been Jesus’ people. Together you have been Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. The Reading area may not seem like the one of the ends of the earth, but admit it. It is a long way and time from Jerusalem and that moment when the disciples hear Jesus’ final words. And yet here you are. Through joint worship, study programs, outreach efforts, and the arts festival, you have worked for and discovered a multitude of ways to be Christ’s people together. You think this is worth the effort. Worth stepping beyond your comfort zone. Worth celebrating.
It is a time of leave-taking in this relationship as well, as Pastor Opalinkski moves on this summer retiring from a particular service and ministry at Trinity and after forty years as an ordained pastor. What do you thin he will do with that space? What will you do with that space? How will you seek Jesus in the in-between times?
Sometimes leave-takings are fiery ordeals. Sometimes blessings. They might include grief, suffering, worry. They can allow for restoration and faithfulness. They always create space. The invitation of Ascensiontide is to live into the in-between space and not rush to fill it or move beyond it or deny it altogether. Can we stay in it, breath in it, explore it and see what gifts it has for us? Can we be in it without trying to resolve it? Can we discover that God is here too, in all spaces? Can we remember that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end and all the in-between. Can we take the time and the space to discover Jesus in-between. Between every leaf on every tree. Between every blade of grass and each cloud. In the space between each beat of each bird’s wing and the infinity between each beat of each of our hearts. Can we wait in ambiguity long enough to see that Jesus is the space between the hello and the good bye and in the farewell itself and in all the moments that come next.
Can we practice faithfulness in a time of ambiguity. And by faithfulness I mean the particular kind of faithfulness that the church is about. Not faith as the opposite of doubt, but faith as the opposite of unfaith. Faithfulness as in holding on, continuing, knowing there is more. Faithfulness as showing up at all the right times and places, and all the in-between times as well. Can we continue to practice a faithfulness that allows us to be in the moment of loss without rushing to fill it, or ignore it, or fight it. Can we see in this time of Ascensiontide an invitation to faithfulness that allows us to explore the space created by loss and transition itself.
After all, we are here today to celebrate your covenant; and a covenant agreement, relationship, ministry, is nothing less than a sign of faithfulness. Remain faithful. Continue to practice loving God and uniting in community at a time of ambiguity and uncertainty and waiting. Live into the in-between space, and know that Jesus is there.