2015 Triduum III

Preaching, Theology

“I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

On the night he was handed over to suffering and death our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for his friends. Having spoken with them of all the last things he wanted them to know and remember before his hour was finished, he then turned to speak to God. He spoke to God about just how strange this motley crew around the table was, how of all the people in the world they were the ones who belonged there with him because they were every bit as strange as he was. He spoke to God about protection, about how he had protected everyone whom God had brought to him, and how now that he was leaving them he needed God to protect them, too. He spoke to God of glory, blinding glory that can only be perceived somewhere beyond the veil of this world’s ignorance, but he also spoke to God about the glory of his friends, the glory in their eyes when they looked at him, trusting him when most thought he was crazy. Finally, he spoke to God about love. He spoke to God of his hope that at least this one thing would last, that he would have taught the disciples to recognize what being loved by God was like, and how to love as God loves in return, so that they might share union in him. “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus prays to the one who has loved him, the one whose love makes Jesus who he is. He prays that his disciples will continue to be made in the shape of that love, and that they in turn will make that love in others, and more beyond them, and more.

This is one of the deepest, most sincere forms of human gratitude and hope. Most of us can recall someone who has loved us into being who we are. If there is anything good which you know how to do, you probably learned it from someone else. The grandmother who taught you how to cook. The next-door neighbors who modeled perfect hospitality. The first friend who really, truly listened to you, who finally saw you for who you were and wanted yourself to be. To feel any kind of genuine gratitude for these gifts which have been entrusted to you is to hope that you can manage to pass some of them along yourself. To feed someone with home-cooked tortillas. To set a perfect place at the table for your guest. To lean in and let someone know that you see them, and that what you see is natural and good. In many ways, when we imitate these behaviors, we can feel like it’s not really us moving and speaking but our family and friends, not our tortillas, not our table, not our listening, but the generations which have preceded us feeding and welcoming and seeing through the hands and eyes and hears we have to lend them now. Jesus constantly spoke of God this way. “It’s not me talking, it’s him” he’d say, looking at an empty sky. “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

One of the things which we do on this night is remember how God loves. All of these stories which we sit here and tell ourselves in the dark are stories of how God loved us into being who we are, places where God took a nothing and made an us. God took chaos and made himself a world, took dry bones and put breath in them, made stone into flesh. God stopped a sacrifice from happening, freed slaves, and invited foolish revellers in to sit at the banquet of his own eternal wisdom. God feeds and sets a table and listens real careful just like humans do, but he also loves by staring square into the face of each abysmal void he can find until something good comes out of it. Humans are less adept at that one. The last story we just told about how God loves is from Zephaniah. In it, the prophet tells Jerusalem to rejoice, to exult and sing songs of joy for the God who is coming to remove all disaster from her midst like a warrior who gives victory, rejoicing over her with gladness, renewing her in his love, exulting over her with loud singing as on a day of festival. Zephaniah makes God sound a bit like a clueless linebacker, or perhaps the hero who has come to save a damsel in distress. Meanwhile Zephaniah makes Jerusalem look like a girl in need of saving, a kind of petulant teenager who must be told that what is happening is good and worth singing about. She may not be ready to celebrate quite yet, she may not be convinced that the disaster is entirely removed, not interested in being thrown over shoulder and carried home, and yet God is there beating his chest, smiling like a dog who’s just happy to see someone he can recognize again. God’s love is clumsy like that, about to flip the lights on whether we’re ready to get up and start the new day or not.

I can only imagine that the disciples waded through their own dark waters, too, desperate to remember something of how their Jesus loved. I can only imagine that in the darkness they told stories of his love which were intermingled with the great disaster it had kicked up in the murky world around them. Perhaps it was because they were paying such close attention in the dark, daring to sit real near-by the abysmal void which the cross had hewn out from their hearts, perhaps this is how they were able to notice when God did something new. Perhaps it was staring clear into the pit of their own anguish and disaster which allowed their eyes to adjust enough to see the pinprick of new light which God was bringing back into the world, a gasp of hope, a cry of relief and then the whole blinding flood of it all. Having finally learned to see the light of God in Jesus in the dark, they could see nothing else, they could see everything.

God’s light is building here now with us as well. In Holy Baptism we see that Jesus is always setting new places around his table for more to join his strange and crazy family. We see that Christ is always ready to make new love in the world, to light another candle, to increase the joy that God began with him. For young Mason, we will be responsible for teaching him what that love looks like exactly, we will be responsible for waiting in the dark with him with all the voids that don’t make sense and for modeling the behaviors he’ll need to see God and make love out of darkness anyway. For Anneka, who comes to these waters as a young woman, we will have a new partner in helping remind ourselves of how Jesus abides with us still, of the vulnerability and self-offering it takes to make God known, the vision it takes to glimpse the first light of joy dawning over sorrow’s field. For both of them, and for each of us who renew our vows with them tonight, we sink into the dark waters of death with him to rise in his resurrection. We will make his name known with shouts of joy and exultation, and the love by which he made us will abide with us this night and forever more.

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