“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
Or otherwise understood as ‘desolate’ or ‘abandoned.’
And while Jesus’ promise today is no doubt true, these days sometimes it feels like I’m still waiting.
And oh, our sense of ‘abandonment’ happened suddenly this time, didn’t it?
Not that we haven’t been precisely here in this place before. Indeed, all of us have experienced times of profound loss, disconnection, even perhaps, despair.
But I’m sure I cannot name another time such as this when we’ve all felt it all at the same time to one degree or another.
And or me, perhaps also for you, one of my greatest losses in this time has been the loss of gathered community, namely in and among the congregation I serve.
Oh, we are coming together on ZOOM for meetings of leaders. Small groups are figuring out how to make this work as a means of connection and learning. But it’s not the same, is it?
Indeed, I so miss…
- the seemingly inevitable interruptions asking for a special announcement or a prayer as I am making my way in to lead worship …
- those moments during the opening hymn when a phrase or a word catches my attention and I find myself turning the sermon to meet it …
- the faces of children who are so very present with their questions and their wonderings and the countless times I have swallowed my laughter as I sit with them, and yes, the joy of simply being beside them…
- the stream of folks making their way to the front with hands outstretched to receive the bread and the wine, the redeeming, empowering, forgiving body and blood of Christ …
- and yes, the many, many times we gathered in close, hands upon hands to bless one who is celebrating a milestone birthday, a baby’s first time in worship, or sending one on one’s way with prayers for God’s powerful care and protection …
(Fill in the blank… I expect you can add your own!)
Being so cut off in this way from those I have been called to love and care for feels as though I, as though ‘we’ are somehow abandoned, doesn’t it? And truth be told, all the phone calls, all the ZOOM meetings, all those many times now of smiling at an empty camera lens: well, it just is not what it was and perhaps you join me in my sense of ‘being orphaned,’ particularly as the realization begins to sink in that we are going to be here for a while yet. Perhaps for a good long while.
So here is what I am hanging tight to today.
When Jesus says ‘I will not leave you orphaned’ he is not speaking to just one, not to just ‘me’ but to a plural and inclusive ‘you.’ I will not leave you all orphaned, desolate, abandoned. I will not.
The certain promise is that Jesus is on his way. Coming to us, to all of us, to all of us together, even now. Even though from this distance, we cannot always see him.
- And maybe it is so that Jesus will not come this time in all the ways I have grown accustomed to seeing him, experiencing him, knowing his nearness.
- Indeed, I expect it is so that you and I and all of us together need to now pray that our senses are deepened, that our imaginations are tuned, to encounter the Resurrected One in whole new ways.
- Or maybe it is also so that I just can’t see it yet. That Jesus still is coming, to be sure, but the promise is not quite yet fulfilled.
Indeed, yesterday afternoon I headed out on my usual afternoon walk.
There was a bite to the air then and there were few others out so for a change, I was walking without the need to pay attention to who was coming in my direction, discerning who would step off the sidewalk to make room for the other. I could pay attention to other things.
It was as I walked that I looked ahead and took note of a tree which looked barren against the brilliant blue sky. I thought to myself that the tree had died and as I walked I wondered at the necessity of cutting that tree down. As I drew nearer, though, I realized that the tree was very much alive — apparently it just leafs out later than most.
And, oh, maybe that is how it is for all of us as we wait for the coming of Jesus in our present sense of being ‘abandoned.’ For the promise is that the forces of life are at work even now. Maybe we are just not close enough to see it just yet.
For yes,the promise has been true for thousands of years.
And even now, as I look again, I know it is coming true.
For surely I have seen Jesus ‘coming to us’ in these new and uncertain days:
- In those who have found their way back ‘into the community’ on line in a way they have not been able to in person. And who are reaching out to say so.
- In deep conversations shared over the phone, again, often with those who are on the edges of those who normally gather in person. And in prayers shared in those one-on-one moments in ways we never have before.
I have seen Jesus coming to us…
- In the ‘matter of fact’ outlooks of those elders who have navigated other times of loss and fear and uncertainty and who attest to the truth that we will get to the other side of this …
- In those who are choosing to meet more often on line than they did before, finding ways to grow ever deeper in faith and in community together …
- In those I know who continue to ask hard questions about who the hardship of this time is falling on most of all. And who wonder at what must be done next so as to better shape a world which reflects God’s intent for us all.
And in this. In the couple who live around the corner who have a sign on their front lawn thanking our heroes and who every night at 7 pm stand out on their busy street and clap their hands for whoever is going by, knowing that some among them are coming off a long shift of working on the front lines somewhere. They are literally ‘casting their gratitude upon the waters’ knowing it will land somewhere it is much needed. It lifts my heart to see their gladness.
And surely yes, I have also seen Jesus coming near in all those things which somehow do remain the same. In the faces of laughing children on Sunday night ZOOM calls, and in the bonds which still bind us together when we happen upon each other in public — even behind our homemade masks.
And in this is as well.
Surely in the patience displayed by so many for the sake of the most vulnerable in our communities:
- We keep our distance.
- We wear our masks, forcing our eyes to ‘smile’ at those we encounter.
- We stay home for now, even in our sense of ‘abandonment,’ knowing that this is what Jesus would do to help keep God’s precious ones as safe as we possibly can.
If you are feeling ‘abandoned’ or somewhat ‘orphaned’ these days, I get it. I really do.
At the same time, I hope you will join me in somehow moving just a little closer so as to see where God’s life force is at work even now in places we thought had long been abandoned.
For the promise is true. You, you all, you and I will not be left orphaned, abandoned, desolate. For Jesus is coming even now.
- Have you also experienced this time as one of being somehow orphaned or abandoned? How has this been so for you?
- When and where have you gotten close enough to sense that Jesus is coming near? How have you seen his coming even now?
- Have you also encountered others ‘casting their gratitude’ out for all the world, trusting it will land where it is needed? What have you seen and heard?