Year C Easter Sunday number 5 is upon us. And it has walked into our lives when the world is watching floods in Houston, Texas; earthquakes in Ecuador; the death of Prince; hundreds dead and around a hundred children kidnapped in some cattle dispute along the South Sudan-Ethiopia border; and people activated over what amounts to ‘unisex privies’ and changes to paper currency.
As I sit here listening to Prince songs like Sunday Morning Jam No. 45 with each song comes a memory—everything from two girls dancing in our school gym to Doves Cry when I was in 9th grade to one ‘heckuva’ make-out session in an El Camino when I was in 12th grade as Purple Rain was falling from FM Rock 103. Just yesterday these Prince tunes would have been songs I knew, but little more, now with death taking Prince they conjure up a host of existing memories and highlight times now all gone. What was old is being made new—one song after another.
With the craziness of the world around us, and the accompanying sadness brought on by the death of an artist only 11 years my senior, such words as these seem hard to receive:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (Rev. 21:1-6 NRSV)
I can certainly feel that the “first heaven and the first earth” are passing away. But where in the heavens or the hells is this “all things new” business.
Where is all this new hiding? I want to know.
The Houston-folk want to know! The Ecuador-folk want to know! Those who mourn Prince want to know! Those in Ethiopia and South Sudan want to know! Even those quibbling about the privies want to know! Now, those idiots saying that only-presidents-should-be-on-U.S.-currency—well, I am not sure that they’re smart enough to want to know—but for the sake of grace let’s include them—they want to know!
Our world looks like crucifixion—and Easter 5C brings us a word of being-made-new resurrection. This would be almost “unpreachable” due to the absurdity of such a text given now amidst such turmoil had Easter 5C not also given us John 13:31-35:
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (NRSV)
Still—in a year where the most bizarre cast of characters, outlandish presidential hopefuls, array themselves before the U.S. electorate; a year in which David Bowie has died, in which Percy Sledge has died, in which Prince has died, in which Syrian immigrants die, in which our world seems to be changing faster than we might possibly be able to adapt—don’t we fully comprehend the horror that was no doubt felt by the hearers when these words spill over Jesus’ lips, “Where I am going, you cannot come?”
Makes one want to shout questions at Jesus like, “What?” and “Just where do you think you are going?” and, “Why can’t we come?”
The disciples have received a newsflash. Across the eons the same newsflash echoes to this 21st century world with difficult to swallow and stomach truth—–OUR WORLD IS CHANGING. No wonder we fall behind every new technological leap, are trembling with a new threat of war, are letting anger, anxiety, and black/white thinking guide us. We fear change—-we’ll do almost anything to make things stay the same—to stave off decay—maybe in Tolkien-fashion we’ll even forge our own metaphoric rings to impose our reality on others. Whatever it takes—we must resist change. We MUST hold back change. Why? Because let’s face it—we are afraid.
And now Jesus says he is leaving, not staying, putting us before certain change without his physical presence to comfort, guide, direct, protect. Yet Jesus seems unconcerned. We are afraid yet Jesus is unconcerned. What does Jesus know that we miss?
For starters, Jesus knew the world was changing for the disciples and Jesus knows that the world is changing for us. And Jesus knows something more—-that there will be a huge vacancy for love when he leaves the disciples. A huge vacuum of love will form where he once occupied space. And so he gives strong space-filling words—–I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
So there the disciples have it—there we have it. We are to be love—to fill the vacuum left by Jesus–we are to love. For love is what makes things new. Love is what makes us new. And as love makes things new, we are to be made knew by and in love. That’s how we embrace decay and watch it be made new in love. That’s how we come to terms with a changing world, we remake it in love. That’s how we move past fear of change, by making it new in love. And what is the end result of being love making agents being ourselves made new in love—-By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
We will be known as disciples of Jesus by love for one another.
Our politics, our privies, our U.S. currency images—-no one will see Jesus in any of that bunk. No one is looking for any of that for everyone is looking to see love. We are called to be the love that fills the vacuum left by Jesus. But to get there and fill that space, I am afraid we have some crucifixion to face—-oh yes, take your cross—crucify the belief that our politics will save us, crucify the belief that our privy wars will save us, crucify that belief that our salvation rests in Andrew Jackson’s face on a $20 note.
That is all division——none of it is love. Jesus never says, “By Andrew Jackson’s face on the $2o everyone will know that you are my disciples,” never ever says, “By segregated/desegregated privies everyone will know you are my disciples,” and never, ever, not even once does Jesus say, “By your partisan politics will everyone know that you are my disciples, rather he says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
That love is what the Houston-folk want to know! That love is what the Ecuador-folk want to know! That love is what those who mourn Prince want to know! That love is what those in Ethiopia and South Sudan want to know! Heck, maybe that love is even what those quibbling about the privies want to know! And, Lord, let’s hope that love is what those idiots saying that only-presidents-should-be-on-U.S.-currency— want to know. For the sake of grace—isn’t such love what we all want to know!
Love makes the new heaven, the new earth, the new reality, the new birth, the hope of a new Jerusalem descending. Love makes change, doesn’t stave it off, or suppress it. Love embraces the new even as the old passes away. Love enacts change, brings forth the kingdom. None of this happens by believing our way into new ways of acting, but rather we love our way into new ways of both believing and acting. And this acting out of love is the practice of love that changes us and the world both at once. And it is the pattern of Jesus.
Jesus is walking-talking-love-up-close-and-personal. Emmanuel—God with us—had arrived. Always God’s promise to Ancient Israel was that the kingdom would be among mortals/people/humans—and it came. And it comes again and again—and you can know that kingdom is near when you stand with a family—not knowing what to say—as they watch the final breaths of a loved one shallowing into eternity. You see that kingdom when you stand silently holding another’s hand in the face of challenge, tragedy, or awe. It’s the “church sandwiches” and tuna casseroles showing up for days to a family whose loved one hangs between life and death. It’s the 100+ quilts that women in rural North Carolina made last year which today warm families in India—families they’ll never see or know. It’s the tire changed for a stranger by US 321N, the phone call taken when you’d rather nap, the hand-written card posted, and so many other loving acts done. It’s these acts incorporated together that are part and parcel of the new Jerusalem a-coming into the old here and now.
Isn’t this how the new Jerusalem comes to us? One loving act, and then another, and another, and another—–and as the acts come forth everyone knows Jesus’ disciples—they can’t be missed for everyone sees them acting in such love.