6th Sunday of Easter John 14: 15-21
“I will not leave you orphaned.” At some point we all want or even need to hear these words. They speak directly to some of our greatest fears and challenges; abandonment and isolation, loneliness, vulnerability. They are almost certainly uppermost in the thoughts of many at this time of lockdown from the Covid 19 virus. These words remind us that we are not destined to walk this earth without an identity or direction however bad it gets or feels, we do not stand alone.
If we are honest for most people there are seasons of life, moments, when changes, and tragedies can leave us feeling as orphans. Whether spoken or unspoken the questions begin to haunt us. What will I do now? Where do I go? What happens next? Who will love, nurture, and guide me? Who will stand on my side? What will become of me? Those are the orphan’s questions. Those are the questions I imagine were running through the heads and hearts of the disciples in the gospel reading.
It is the last supper. The disciples have been fed, their feet have been washed, the betrayer Judas has left. It is night time and dark, and Jesus announces that he is leaving them. The one for whom they left everything now says he is leaving. Thomas says “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” and then he asks “Show us the Father,” and I suspect even more questions were to follow.
The feeling of being an orphan is real. Certainly we will find the orphan’s questions are buried deep within all of us – they come rushing to the surface when life tragedies occur, when facing the death and destruction that are left as hurricanes or tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and forest fires have occurred. I am sure these or similar questions will be in people’s minds right now with the Pandemic we are living with. “Are we left alone? How do we move forward and rebuild our lives? Who will go with us?”
I think many people fear becoming orphaned. That fear points to the deeper reality that by ourselves we are not enough. It is not, however, because we are deficient. It is rather because we were never intended or created to be self-sufficient. We were never intended to stand alone as individuals. We were created to love and be loved, to live in relationships learning to give to each other, commit to each other and remain within each other even as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father which is the antithesis of being orphaned.
“I will not leave you orphaned.” That is the promise. Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, storms, death, separation, sickness, we have never been and will never be orphaned by God. How strange that must have sounded to the disciples. In the same conversation Jesus tells them that he is leaving them but not to be afraid, as the Holy Spirit was coming to be their guide and comforter. Leaving and coming surely sound like opposites. If we are not careful we will get stuck trying to figure this out. It is not something that we can or need to figure out.
Leaving and coming. Presence and absence. These spiritual things we accept by faith and we hold in tension. That is what Jesus has set before us in today’s gospel. It confronts us with the question of whether Jesus is a past memory or a present reality. Is the gospel a sentimental story that makes us feel good or a living experience that challenges, guides, and nurtures our lives.
According to Jesus the answer to that question is determined by love that is revealed and fulfilled in keeping his commandments. The commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, to love our enemies, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Whose feet do we wash and whose feet do we ignore? What are the boundaries of our love?
The joy today is that Jesus’ promise to his disciples is still real for us in 2020. “I will not leave you orphaned.” Keeping the commandments is our access to Jesus’ promise that we will not be left orphaned. Every time we expand the boundaries of our love we push back the orphanages of this world creating space within us where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit make their home.
“I will not leave you orphaned.” Over and over, day after day, regardless of what is happening in our lives that is Jesus’ promise. We have not been abandoned so love with all that you are and that you have, even as the God, Father Son and Holy Spirit have and continue to love us with all that they are and all that they have.