April 14, 2024

3rd Sunday of Easter – Bill Harkins

In the name of the God of Creation who loves us all. Amen.

Good Morning and welcome to Holy Family on this the 3rd Sunday of Easter! I’m so glad you are joining us today.       

In this chapter of our lives at Holy Family, I find myself empathizing with the Disciples in ways perhaps new for me. Maybe you do so as well. We know they have been scared, and in the reading for today, they don’t recognize Jesus when he appears. Begging the question, when we are in a season of uncertainty and transition, can we recognize Christ in the face of the other, our sisters and brothers, and can we remain relatively non-anxious enough to lead with wisdom, and resilience? And, let’s remember we have only recently emerged from an unprecedented time of social distancing and quarantine, and we’ve all been on a post-pandemic journey of sorts. One of our daughters-in-law is an epidemiologist with the CDC, now working remotely from Houston, and so I pay attention to CDC notices of various kinds. Not only are we all still adjusting to life after the pandemic, we are also in what the Surgeon General has called an “epidemic of loneliness,” exacerbated by the pandemic and the real and ambiguous losses, as well as the anticipatory grief and anxiety we all feel to varying degrees. We are also in a season of political discord which, while not unprecedented, is quite real. The loss of life in Gaza and related conflicts add to our sense of dislocation. Let’s covenant to pray for one another, for the world, and for resilience and patience in this time together. And let’s seek to look for life-giving ways to contribute to Holy Family with love, and when needed, forgiveness. We need one another.

On Tuesday night of this past week our vestry and nominating committee met with Scott Kidd, an old friend of mine and rector at our neighbor church Resurrection, in Sautee Georgia. I’m so glad to be on this journey with you all, and I am grateful for those serving on these committees. I am also aware of being in a new leadership role among you. A few days ago I was walking out to the car with Andy Edwards after services. Now, Andy and Melinda were here many years ago, back when I was a Postulant at Holy Family, many years ago, and he said “Well, your priesthood has come full circle from here, to the Cathedral, and now back again.” And so it has. My first thought was one of deep gratitude for this parish, and for all it has meant to me and my family. I was also aware of a moment of anxiety, being as I am in a new role among you all.  Because of the overlapping relationships we have had, it has been a kind of developmental challenge. I am reminded of this continuity and overlap of life themes in the story of the mother who was getting breakfast ready for her son. She noticed that he not only had not appeared but he seemed to be making no sounds of preparation upstairs. She went to his room and, finding the door closed, asked if he was OK. He said he was fine but that he was not going to school today. The mother, being of the modern sort, decided to engage her son in reasonable conversation, and asked him to provide three good reasons why he should not go to school. The son obliged: “Number one, I don’t like school; number two, the teachers don’t like me; number three, I’m afraid of the kids.” “Okay,” said the mother. “Now I’m going to give you three good reasons why you are going to school. Number one, I’m your mother and I say school is important. Number two, you’re 40 years old and, number three, you’re the principal!” 

Well, truth told we are, each of us in a new role at Holy Family, and I am only one among many asked to step up in this season. As our beloved Katharine Armentrout said on the occasion of her retirement, lay leadership will be—for many reasons—increasingly important in the coming chapter. We’re not alone in this. The new mission statement in the Diocese of Colorado is “Lay Led…Clergy Supported.” This is the new zeitgeist in the church for many reasons. We will each have to discover in ourselves opportunities for leadership, and this may mean facing fears, uncertainty, and leaving our comfort zone to be an integral part of the Body of Christ in this place. We each have an opportunity to grow in new ways. Let’s covenant to do so, shall we?

And so, like the disciples in the Gospel for today, we are each walking, talking with one another about what has happened, finding some meaning in what we’ve been through, and trusting that God is listening to us and bearing witness to our concerns and fears. Carl Jung once said that the soul rejoices in saying out loud what we feel inside, just as our Psalms teach us to do, even when it is hard to do so. As the disciples experienced in this Gospel, Jesus is available to hear both, and we are called to do likewise.

Jesus invited the disciples tell about their anxieties and pains; he let them grieve and mourn. Jesus listened to them, as they poured out their fear, uncertainty, sadness and grief. Jesus patiently guided the disciples “from hopelessness and sadness to celebration, to hope, to relationship restored and renewed; in short, to resurrection.”    

And yes, we are living in a time of transition and change. Rabbi and family therapist Ed Friedman has reminded us that grief and loss that are not transformed get transmitted.  We’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Anticipatory grief is a general sense of unease. I suspect the disciples felt much the same as we do now, a king of not knowing with the sense of dislocation that attends it.

The author Rachel Naomi Remen has suggested that “The way we deal with loss shapes our capacity to be present to life more than anything else,” she says. And when we tell each other stories of hope and resilience, they tell us about who we are, what is possible for us, what and who we might call upon. They also remind us we’re not alone with whatever faces us and that there are resources available to us. But we must each be committed to hope, and compassion, and grace. As Goethe said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth…the moment one definitely commits oneself, the Providence moves too.”  The Disciples believe Jesus to be a stranger, and their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread. In this text and related passages, this is a common theme. What does it mean to really see? How often do we miss what is right in front of us and how often do we miss the face of Christ in the stranger whom we encounter on the road?  In the Gospel story for today we have a signpost of sort; a guide through the uncertainty in this season of transition at Holy Family.

Last summer a friend and I were hiking and trail running high in the mountains of Colorado, and at certain points above the tree line where the trails can become diffuse, cairns, towers of rock guiding the way, were so very helpful. “Inuksuk”—or little people—as the Inuit tribes call these signposts, can be like lighthouses on a distant shore, guiding us along. Jesus is just such a guide in the Gospel for today, and as such he helps the disciples move from grief and loss and despair to hope, and to compassion.  “My peace I give you.”

On Tuesday night this past week, our consultant gave us a list of things we must do together as we seek our new rector—and this list included coming to terms with our history; acknowledging the past, being honest about the DNA in that past… and dealing with both grief—letting go—and moving forward together…holding on; beginning to discover a new identity; allowing for and empowering new leaders among us; strengthening relationships and enriching hospitality; asking ourselves where we have been, and where we are going, and what kind of leadership is needed in this new chapter…and we are called to love one another with grace, and compassion. And with love.Well, some time ago a dear friend and clergy colleague died after a courageous, year-long struggle with leukemia. A priest for more than forty years, he was gifted in the areas of ministry he most deeply loved; contemplative prayer, spiritual formation, and liturgy. We served on the Cathedral staff for several years, both of us part-time, and in some ways we were very different…and we became close perhaps not in spite of this, but because of our differences. He was a wise and gentle mentor to those of us younger in “priest years,” and a gift to each parish he served. After several hospital stays, two extensive rounds of chemotherapy, and a joyful but short lived remission, the cancer returned with new vigor. My colleague, in consultation with family and friends, decided to cease all but palliative care, and to die on his own life-giving terms. In one of our last conversations on his back porch, with the birds singing in the early spring air, he said to me “Bill, I have had so much love.” I said “Yes, there are many who love you, and I am among them.” “That may be, “he replied, “but what I mean is that there are so many whom I have loved. I have so much gratitude for the love God has enabled me to give away.” Dear ones, we are given by God the freedom to love—and this requires release from any fears and the bondage of unnamed grief that would keep us from giving this love. It requires the peace of God, breathed on the disciples and each of us. We are rightly suspicious when we are called only to joy. Yes, and even amidst our struggle with various forms of loss and uncertainty, we can find life-giving possibilities, in conversation with each other, widening the circle of care, and guided by love. And remember, as Jesus taught us, that wholeness includes all of our wounds, just as it included all of his. It includes all of our vulnerabilities. This is the way we connect to one another. Our shared humanity allows us to be available to one another. In sharing his wounds, and in the breaking of the bread, Jesus was known to the disciples, and to us. Let us go and do likewise. Amen.