St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Let Love Carry Us – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    May 16, 2021

    This is the final Sunday of our Easter season and we’re celebrating the Feast of Pentecost.  We’ve spent the past 43 days reading about the Resurrection – from various Gospels and from the Acts of the Apostles.  Next week, on the 50th day, we will celebrate Pentecost – one of the major feasts in our church and the season will shift into the season of the Spirit, the long Season after Pentecost.  And one of the ways we’ll mark that shift this year is to reinhabit our building again.

    Six weeks ago we celebrated Easter and read Mark’s version of what happened that day at the tomb.  Mary and a few other women go to the tomb. The stone is rolled back (either before or while they are there). And a young man in a white robe appears to explain what’s happened to the body that should be in the tomb, the body that should be dead.  This person tells the women, “Do not be alarmed. Go and tell the others to go to Galilee.  That’s where he is.”

    But, as Mark tells us, the women were too afraid so they said nothing to anyone.

    Now, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we have two men in white.  These beings in white that come to us in the Gospels, these angels, if you will, are messengers.  Meant to snap us out of our reverie and our fear.  We like to think of angels as protectors, which brings an image of comfort.  But usually, angels are not focused on comfort.  They appear when we need to be shaken awake in some way, which is a form of protection.  They are there to protect our soul from our own worst fears.  They are messengers from God who come to help us re-member ourselves.

    These beings in white, these angels, mark the beginning of the Resurrection and the beginning of the Ascension.  Messengers doing what they always do: pointing us in the right direction.

    So, in the resurrection story, the angel(s) tell us where the resurrected Jesus can be found – out in the world, in Galilee.  And now that the disciples have become Galileans, the angels appear again, as Jesus ascends and leaves them behind, saying: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

    The events are different, but the message is the same: God has indeed done wonders in this person Jesus.   “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Christ is not among the dead. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Christ is not in heaven.  Christ lives.  Here.  With us.  Amongst us. In us and through us.  Christ lives.

    God has shown us Christ, given us a Son. But don’t stand here gaping.  Go and join Christ in the world. Go and find Christ in your human siblings, in the vast creation that you have been given to steward.  Go and serve Christ there.  Go and serve life through love.

    Ascension of Christ by Salvador Dali

    This is why I chose this particular painting for the front cover today – Salvador Dali.  I think he really gets it.  We want to stand here, looking up.  Keeping in our sight a glimpse of God for ourselves.  We believe that love means we’re supposed to hang on, but it doesn’t.  On the contrary, love means that we are supposed to let go and let Love carry us.

    The Feast of the Ascension marks 40 days after Easter, which is what these readings are referencing.  As we know, 40 days is a marker in our Christian tradition – 40 days of rain in the story of the Flood, 40 days of Lent to purge ourselves and come back to God.

    When the term “40 days” is used in scripture, it’s not referring to the exact timing of 40 days, but is referring to a period of time in which we can, if we are attentive to it, experience a change in ourselves.  40 days is another way of saying, “a season” during which transformation can take place.

    Here, in the beginning of the Book of Acts, Jesus has been walking the earth as the resurrected Christ for 40 days.  Proclaiming love as the final word for 40 days.  Convincing his disciples of this truth for 40 days.  Ensuring that the teaching of love will continue beyond the so-called finality of death.  And this transformation is not meant for Jesus, but for the disciples- you and me.

    And this is important because death, any death, can leave us behind, feeling tossed around in a wake of anger and resentment and vengeance and despair.  Grief of any kind does this to us. So the importance of these 40 days of Easter cannot be overlooked.

    Because in them, in the season of the Resurrection, we are shown a new way.  We are shown exactly what sacrifice means and therefore what love actually means.  And we are shown that who or what we grieve doesn’t need to keep hold of us because the Love that is God is still holding us.  So, death is never the final word.  Love is always the final word when we are willing to fully inhabit our lives as Christians, as followers of Jesus.

    But, then Jesus leaves.  He ascends.  To be seated at the right hand of God, as the Nicene Creed tells us.  The skeptic in me tells me that this was a story created to explain why Jesus no longer walks the earth.  But the believer in me, the mystic, looks for a deeper meaning – What is the Ascension about?

    I think the key is in the first part of today’s reading from Acts: When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

    “Lord is this the time…?”  The disciples are still looking to Jesus to lead them in a worldly battle.  The disciples are still, after all this time – the crucifixion and resurrection, and all the miracles, all the teachings, all the healings – the disciples still need this angel to shake them awake.

    Because, as humans, we will always want worldly power and comfort.  We will always want what we love to be restored to its former glory.  We will always want the world to be the way we want it and for God to provide that for us on our timeline. It’s this “holding on” that I’ve been talking about.

    So, at the end of this season of Easter, we are being asked to accept that the world will not be as we want it to be, but it doesn’t mean that we have no place in it.  It doesn’t mean that we still aren’t called to show up in it.  It means only that we are being asked to allow ourselves to be transformed.  To let go and let Love hold us.

    Jesus tells them: “It’s not for you to decide what’s going to happen or when.  This is up to God.  But the Holy Spirit is coming and She will give you power and wisdom.  Then, perhaps you’ll get it.  When you, yourself, have been filled with Love and inspired by Love, then you’ll bear witness to Love, you will become that Love all the way to the ends of the earth.”

    This may seem incredibly mystical.  I can’t imagine anything more mystical than the Ascension, actually.  But the Ascension is also one of the most pragmatic, one of the most practical things God has ever done.

    Because God understands human nature.  In order for humanity to be able to focus on Love and live into becoming Love’s messengers ourselves, we must be able to remove our gaze from the person of Jesus and look into the eyes of our siblings around us.  If we are to change the world through Love, we have to stop waiting for Jesus to lead us.  And we have to BE Christ in and for the world.

    Jesus told us that whomever believed in him would do “even greater things than” he did, in the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel.  But this requires something of us.  It requires us to choose love over empire, over our comfort.  It requires us to choose life over the economy.  To have faith in a vision.  It invites us to give of ourselves, to empty ourselves, until only Christ – only Christ – resides in our hearts.

    And this is not some feel-good spiritual joyride, this is the everyday hard work of showing up for others and being willing to be changed by their presence.  This is what ministry is.
    Is it convenient?  No.  Not usually.  Is it easy?  Sometimes, not always.
    Is it rewarding?  Yes, it often is.  Is it joyful?  Yes.  Every single time.  Yes.

    And being a member of a congregation is like boot camp. It’s a training ground for ministry.  We learn to be there for one another, to give of ourselves for one another so that we gain confidence and skill to take that Love out into the world, beyond the walls of the church building.

    We learn to love one another around a Table of Reconciliation where in thanksgiving, the Body of Christ is taken, blessed, broken, and shared.  And we do this so that we may become what we receive – the Body of Christ, taken, blessed, broken, and shared with the world.

    I’m so thankful for this online platform called Zoom and for all of the people who have worked hard to make our worship through it as beautiful and joyful as possible – Terry, Laura, Deacon Sue, Wes, Ana, Pat, Corrina, Jocelyn, Lynn, Cathe… everyone.

    And next week, we will not be here on Zoom.  We will be in the sanctuary every Sunday at 10 for the foreseeable future.  And, just like any change, there will be some anxiety about coming together again in our building next week.  Because the experience of being together will not be the same as it was before the pandemic hit.  We are different people.  We are a different community. And we need to move differently in the building than we remember.

    Regardless of what we have lost over these 14 months, regardless of what has changed, we will still reinhabit our building, and we will also re-member ourselves as the Body of Christ.  We will celebrate the Eucharist again as a full community and re-member how to let love carry us.  So that we can re-member ourselves and be fed to be the Body of Christ in and for the world.