Easter 7 A – Important Interludes

John 17:1-11
Acts 1:6-14

Dear Partner in Preaching,

I don’t often try to preach on more than one passage at a time. I like diving a little deeper into a single story and worry about forcing associations between texts. But from time to time, the passages or context entice me to pull together themes from a couple of the readings, and this is one of those weeks. This time, it’s both the passages (John 17 and Acts 1) and the context (Memorial Day weekend). Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

Both passages describe an interlude – a period of waiting and transition. In John, it’s the waiting between all Jesus has done up to now (across three years in the Johannine narrative) and what he is about to do. (Brief note: It’s super-easy to describe the cross as something being done to Jesus, but in John, Jesus is the supreme actor in all events leading to his glorification by crucifixion.) It is an interlude that is both intense and important, and spans four full chapters (nearly 25% of John’s Gospel!) describing the events of Thursday evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. The long discourse and (in today’s reading) prayer are all intended to prepare the disciples for their lives after Jesus’ ascension or, in more Johannine terms, Jesus’ return to the father. And so, on the brink of crossing the threshold from being Jesus’ students to being Jesus’ emissaries to the world, Jesus prays for them (and for us, if you look ahead to verse 20). And this prayer prepares them for the adventure ahead of them.

Now to Acts and the funny little story that launches Luke’s story of the spread of the early church. It’s funny because the disciples are just standing there, looking up at Jesus’ disappearing form, mesmerized – or is it paralyzed – by what they’ve just seen. Until some two messengers in white clothes (which parallels pretty darn exactly the scene from the resurrection in Luke 24) show up and ask them what in the world they’re staring at, and this seems to kick-start them on their way back down the mountain to Jerusalem where they will live and eat and pray and worship together until Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This, as it turns out, is also an important interlude, as they are being prepared for life after Jesus’ ascension and their changed role from disciples (students and followers) to apostles (messengers, heralds, and leaders).

These passages together remind me that in the Bible, folks don’t just get a “break” or a “vacation” or “time off” for its own sake, but rather these periods are always interludes, times of preparation, the pause for refreshment and renewal before the invitation to walk across another threshold, start a new adventure, or cross a boundary into unfamiliar but nevertheless God-beloved territory.

The disciples – in both John’s Maundy Thursday and Luke’s Ascension Day accounts – have absolutely no idea what is ahead of them. But they do know that a) Jesus is preparing them for whatever may come and b) he will accompany them via the Holy Spirit and Advocate.

All of which got me thinking about this weekend and holiday celebrated in the United States. Memorial Day, officially declared a national holiday in 1971, but dating in practice back to shortly after the Civil War, is a time to remember and honor those who have died in service to their country. It is also an interlude, a time to allow the stories about the sacrifices of actual, concrete persons to keep us from making war an abstraction, to inspire us to honor their memory by dedicating ourselves to peace with the hope that someday others will not have to make the same sacrifice. In this sense, Memorial Day should not be merely a break, a time to get to the shore or lake, or a long weekend, but a time to renew our sense of gratitude for those who have served their country and for the freedoms we enjoy because of that service and sacrifice. And it can also renew our sense of commitment to working for a world that is more just, for justice and peace most often go together.

Might this weekend – and various moments of vacation across the summer – also be important interludes? That is, might we help our people imagine that rest and relaxation are not simply goods in themselves but also times when God is preparing us for what may come next? Please let me be clear – this is not a call for an anti-vacation-sermon; rest and renewal and relaxation are all import. Rather, I’d like to invite us to invite our folks to imagine that amid the rest and time away, God may also be at work preparing us for what is to come. We have no idea of what the remainder of 2017 will bring, let alone 2018. There will be accomplishments and setbacks, victories and defeats, joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies on a personal, communal, national, and global scale. And in all these things, God will be with us, comforting, celebrating with, strengthening, and accompanying us in and amid whatever may come. And God will also be preparing us, preparing us to be God’s emissaries of good news, preparing us to comfort others, preparing us to work for peace, preparing us to live with less fear and more generosity, preparing us to look out for the rights of others, preparing us to strive for a more just community and world.

Interludes, for people of faith, are always times when God prepares us for the next adventure. Perhaps our task this week, Dear Partner, is to give our folks the eyes to see God at work, even – and perhaps especially – during these important interludes. Blessings on your life and ministry and thank you for your words of grace.

Yours in Christ,