There Is No Going Back To Normal Or the Glory Days – This is the Beginning

GOSPEL: John 17:1-11
1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples], he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you… 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, we arrive at the seventh and final Sunday in the season of Easter. Easter 2020 must be, without a doubt, the most memorable Easter in our memories. “We are living through history” has been an oft’ repeated phrase of the pandemic era. And our Easter journey as people of faith has not been that far off from our lived reality. Hiding out in locked rooms for fear of the outside world is an essential Easter experience. Having no frame of reference, no experienced story to tell that makes sense of our new world is an essential Easter experience. And being prepared as disciples of Jesus for an unknown future is an essential Easter experience. 

As we prepare to the flip the page on Easter with Pentecost Sunday next week, we slide between Easter realities. In John’s gospel we slide back to Holy Week where Jesus prays for his followers just as he is about to go the cross. In Acts, we hear Jesus and the disciples having a conversation about what happens next to this fledging Easter community. 

The disciples come to Jesus with a request to go back, to return the Kingdom of Israel.  To a specific dream of the“glory days.” A vision that requires a deep dive into the history of Israel.  A specific moment in time, after Moses, after the promise land, beginning with King David but before foreign nations began threatening their borders and before they were exiled and occupied by the Romans. And of course not during the reign of one of the bad or mediocre Kings, but one of the greats! Of course they forget that even during the best of times, God was still sending prophets into their midst telling them to repent and get their act together. 

After all the disciples had seen, from following the call of Jesus from their fishing boats to witnessing the resurrected Christ appear behind locked doors, and their burning question is “are we going back?”

Sound at all familiar?

If you have spent any time reading, watching or listening to the news, you know that the world is wondering when things are going to reopen: from sports to shopping to public spaces – including places of worship. In fact, in many cases, Christians have been at the forefront of the demand to for political and public health leaders to loosen restrictions on gatherings. 

And you would think of all the people demanding that things go back to the way they used to be, we would know better. 

Because we have been longing to go back to what we remember as the glory days, long before this pandemic hit the world. But of course, nailing down what we think we want to go back to is not as easy or straightforward as we think. It was only a matter of weeks ago that we were concerned with declining resources and aging populations and shrinking congregations. Is that what we want to return to? Or is there a more specific place we want to go backwards towards? Do we want to go back to the days of church buildings full of worshippers and bursting Sunday Schools? To a time when women, people of colour and LGBTQ2SIA+ people were prevented from holding positions of leadership in the church? To the time when many churches were homogenous cultural enclaves? To the time when pastors were paid in the chickens and made pastoral visits in order to shame members into handing over their offering?

Our desire may be to go back to the good old days, but which good old days might be hard to answer. 

It is normal to lament what was. Especially when we don’t know what is or what will be. But we have to admit it is strange to long for something that most of us can agree wasn’t that good… something that, if we’re really being honest needed change?

So when the disciples ask their question, Jesus not so gently tells the disciples that they have no clue what is coming next for them, and it isn’t their job to know. That is up to the Father. Instead they are just along for the ride, they are simply witnesses to the activity and plans of God in the world. 

The disciples had no clue that they were about to preach the gospel in all kinds of languages to all kinds of people baptizing them by the thousands. Nor did they know that most of the early church communities would small groups of 12 or 25 people spread throughout the Roman Empire and would be ministered to by a former Pharisee and murderer of Christians who liked to write letters. They did not know their little group of followers would spawn generations upon generations of faith communities proclaiming the gospel to all the ends of the earth.

They had no idea what their path would be as Jesus ascended to the Father. 

Yet as John describes to us, Jesus knows that his followers don’t have a clue what is in store for them. They are dreaming of the return of rose-coloured glory days, of going back to some imagined time of greatness that is certainly better in their imaginations than the real thing. 

They cannot help but look back with nostalgia and hope for the glory days again. 

And yet as Jesus prays, he names the ways in which his disciples belong to each other, that their life together is a reflection of Christ, peek into the Trinity, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All along Jesus has been stitching this rag tag group together, shaping and moulding them for the next phase, the next chapter. Transforming them into this newly birthed community of the gospel. A community defined by the life of Christ, a community tied into the very death and resurrection of the One sent to save. 

That even as they have no idea where they are about to end up, Jesus has been preparing them to be what God needs them to be. 

A community of faith, 
of imperfect and flawed people 
who may not know where they are going, 
but who proclaim that the risen Christ 
is their way, their life and their truth. 
That the cross and empty tomb have changed them 
and all creation 
for the kingdom that has God envisioned. 

And so here today, what does this mean for us? 

We who long to return to normal, even as we begin to recognize that life as we knew it will not, cannot to be the same as it was. We come to the end of Easter, in the midst of this time of global uncertainty longing for comfort of the past. 

And we too are just as clueless about what comes next for us as the disciples were. No matter our desire to go back to normal, to go back to the glory days, to restore the kingdoms of our imaginings… there is no going back. And more importantly, we aren’t the one steering the ship anyways. 

Yet, Jesus’ reminds us today, with Pentecost on the horizon, that our future is known by God. And that we too are being prepared for what comes next for us. 

That Jesus is sticking us together into One Body, 
preparing us yet again to be new communities of faith, 
birthed into the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. 
That the cross and empty tomb redefine us, 
even in a world of declining churches, 
even in a world of pandemic closures… 
God is transforming us into the very body 
that will proclaim the Good News to the world, 
through whom God will proclaim 
forgiveness of sins and salvation in the waters, 
in whom God feeds the world with God’s own Body – the Body of Christ given for us. 

And so yes on this 7th Sunday of the most memorable Easter we have known, we are reminded again that God has the regular habit of setting us off in new directions when we least expect it. And that the destination is not for us to know, nor what things will look like when we get there. But only that God is the one leading us, that we belong to one another in Christ and that the sprit goes with us. And that Christ has been preparing us for this moment long before we even had a clue.

The season of Easter may be coming to an end…

but Christ promises us that this new resurrected life in this Easter community is only beginning. 

Amen. 

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