Harrowing Of Hell
May 10, 2015

The Joy of Christ

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

We began our weekly staff meeting this past Tuesday with the question: “What has brought you joy this week?” Everyone had a chance to respond and the answers ranged from “a good night’s sleep,” to “sitting in the sunshine,” “spending time with children and grandchildren,” and of course, “spending LOTS of time together at Epiphany!” That was everyone’s second answer.

So, I’m curious. What has brought you joy this week? And as a follow up to that question, what is Christ’s joy that is also your joy? If that second part stumps you, don’t worry; we are going to talk about that more later.

But for now, let me orient you with where we are in the Bible: In this part of John’s gospel, we have jumped back in time. This is BEFORE the crucifixion, BEFORE Easter. But it is AFTER Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary has ALREADY anointed Jesus with costly perfume. AND, Jesus has entered Jerusalem in triumph riding on the back of a donkey. Jesus has been continually warning his disciples of his impending death, but they won’t hear it. He has even washed their feet at the Last Supper.

This is where we are located in the story this morning, this Sixth Sunday of Easter. Sitting in the in between, the chapters of the gospel between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday which we don’t have time to hear during the packed Holy Week liturgies.

As a moment of preview, next Sunday we mark the Ascension of Christ, when the resurrected Jesus ASCENDED to heaven and the Sunday after that is Pentecost.

So, today we are in a sort of rewind, a post-death, back-to-the-future to hear what Jesus has to teach us because NOW, we are going to truly HEAR IT in a new way.

This flashback reminds me of the very human experience of loss and grieving and the way in which that causes us to reflect upon a person’s life and memory in community. I have two personal examples from this week and I know you will be thinking of your own.

Monday, I learned of the death of Ralph Bolstad. Ralph, you see, was an elderly parishioner in the first parish I served as a newly ordained priest nine years ago. He and his wife, Rosemary, lived in a small condo in West Seattle at the time and I remember visiting them once or twice when illness kept them from their habit of regular church attendance. On those visits over cups of tea, I heard stories of their days serving as missionaries and other adventures of their youth, before raising a family, and setting down roots in Seattle.

Learning of Ralph’s death caused me to spend some time thinking back to the stories I had nearly forgotten, memories of Ralph’s career as a doctor, a faithful follower of Christ, a singer, a storyteller, a linguist, an artist, and a man devoted to his family and his church. It made me remember the way his forehead crinkled up when he laughed and the way his clear blue eyes shone.

This past Tuesday also marked 10 years since my grandfather’s death, a man to whom I was extremely close and looked up to for inspiration, love, and support in my formative years.

When we are in the presence of someone, whether it is a teacher, a family member, a mentor, or friend, we often miss or under appreciate the wisdom they have to offer us until we look back on it later with a different framework or lens – perhaps after their death or maybe simply after some time has passed and we have changed or matured.

When we revisit those memories and tell the stories, it’s two-fold:
1) It’s part of the grieving process and helps us begin to heal, and
2) We hear and remember that person in a new way, from a new perspective because they are now gone. We have changed and it is with a new framework that we integrate their memory into our story.

At this point in the gospel, Jesus is basically reading the disciples a love letter, one that makes so much more sense now, in retrospect, AFTER the crucifixion, AFTER the resurrection, but BEFORE the ascension. This is a liminal space; for us and for the disciples.

For us, the resurrected Christ is still hanging around and we’re using this nebulous time to catch all we can before we see him off – but at this point, chronologically in the story, the disciples don’t know they’re going to see him off – they don’t know there won’t be anymore breakfasts over fires on the shore, or more appearances on the road to Emmaus, but they are seeing him with new eyes. And, they are remembering his teachings in a new way, with a new framework because his death and his resurrection have already changed them.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.” he says. “Make yourselves at home in my love.”

What does that means to make ourselves at home in the love of Jesus? When I think about abiding or dwelling in the love of Jesus, I think of the way Jesus loved everyone he came across; from the outcasts, beggars and prostitutes, to the tax collectors and fisherman. He loved without strings attached. He loved with a fierce love that was pure and true. It was an unconditional love that was just as he said, the same love that God had for him.

The next piece of his love letter, explains how we might follow in his footsteps, how we might experience that same love which clearly leads to JOY.

Follow my teachings, he urges, and if you do, you will remain intimately at home in my love. There is a greater purpose for all of this…my life, our relationships, “that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.”

This is the legacy of Jesus. Jesus taught us how to love; how to love God, how to love ourselves, how to love others without passing judgement, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus taught us how to be joyful.

Which brings me back to my original question: what is Christ’s joy that is also our joy?

Can you think of ways in which you abide in God’s love, ways that you make yourself at home in God’s love? How?

If you’re sitting there drawing a blank, that’s fine! I have plenty of ideas. Consider your prayer life – meditation, structured daily prayer, and intercessory prayer. And these are just a few examples of ways to engage God’s love through prayerful dialogue. You have to make yourself available. You have to expose your soul to God through regular, habitual, rhythms of prayer because over time that will change you. Immerse yourself in God’s creation. Sit in the sunshine. Go hiking in the mountains. Spend the afternoon in your garden. After an hour or so outside, I often find myself feeling more alive, more in tune with my spirit, more connected to God. And consider Jesus, the actions he took and the life he lived. Jesus found joy in talking with the outsider, feeding the hungry, tending the sick, welcoming the stranger.

(At a luncheon the other day, surrounded by members of Epiphany, I was reminded of what so many of you do for our community each and every day, and it was inspiring.)

When you look back on your life someday, what are the things that you will look back on with joy? Seek those things now. Do them more often.

Summer is coming and we are embarking upon what we are calling a Pilgrimage-in-Place. A pilgrimage-in-place seems like a fine time to abide in God’s love. What does that look like for you? What is Christ’s Joy that is also your Joy? And where are you going to find Joy in the coming week?