A Sermon for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN
by The Rev. Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Sunday, May 10, 2020 – The Fifth Sunday of Easter
In the name of Jesus Christ in whom we find ourselves in God. Amen.
It is a strange comfort to hear the words from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John in the midst of this Eastertide. In the Office for The Burial of the Dead our Prayer Book lists today’s Gospel as appropriate scripture for funerals. Words which have consoled countless generations of mourners who have gathered to grieve and to celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones. During this global COVID-19 catastrophe, in this peculiar Eastertide, today’s Gospel brings us that clarity of perspective that our Funeral Liturgy accomplishes with the grandeur and dignity of its exquisite language. Today’s Gospel helps us to make meaning of the pain of loss. The loss of our sense of belonging when relationships that defined who we are have changed. The loss of that tender togetherness of relationship leaves us feeling isolated, forsaken, and heartbroken. Today’s Gospel still consoles us profoundly as it has succeeded to do for centuries. In the language of the Preface for the Commemoration of the Dead, Jesus, crucified and risen, comforts and assures all people that “life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 382).
In response to Jered’s invitation to St. John’s clergy to incorporate excerpts from films that help us to discern the meanings of Scripture, I would like to show you a poignant scene of consolation to which I often turn. Based on the novel by André Aciman, towards the end of Luca Guadagnino’s film, Call Me By Your Name, we witness Professor Perlman comforting his heartbroken son Elio. In this scene Elio is utterly devasted after experiencing the loss of his first true love. As Elio slowly draws nearer to his dad, listen to the words of consolation we hear in this loving relationship shared between a father and his son:
The wisdom disclosed in the love language professor Perlman shares with his son is imbued with the same spirit of consolation that the Gospel once proclaimed to its heartbroken, traumatized, first-century community. Words of timeless consolation that the Gospel still preaches to those who are struggling through this global health crisis; consolation to those struggling to make meaning of yet another innocent black person being murdered by white supremacists; consolation to those of us who are mourning relationships that are no longer the same. Mingled with the divine sounds of a summer thunderstorm and Maurice Ravel’s bittersweet music, Professor Perlman says to his heartbroken son, “right now, there’s sorrow and pain – don’t kill it; and with it the joy you felt.”
This sorrow, this pain of loss that you and I are feeling symbolizes and points to the very real love that defines our truest identity. Don’t kill it. Instead, trust in the very real love our pain reveals, which is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of our crucified and risen Lord. The Way to knowing who and whose we are: beloved children of God made in the Trinitarian image of Loving Relationship. We are made in the image of Our Creator’s Love Begotten. We find our Way, Truth, and Life in allowing ourselves to be received into the Loving embrace of Christ, so that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from that trust in the Love of God.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously observed that “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” As we endure the incredible pain of loss, like the heartbroken Elio; like all traumatized families of color who are still being terrorized by the pathology of white supremacy; like the first-century followers of Jesus in John’s community; we endure all of this unspeakable pain with the crucified Christ who transfigures our pain into the poetry of Resurrection. As we endure the overwhelming deaths that surround us, like Saint Stephen the Martyr, we pray with him, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). And we can trust that God’s Love Incarnate will always come again in glory, again and again and again, to take both the living and the dead into Christ’s self, so that where God’s Love is, there we will be also.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust in Christ. Trust in the tragic beauty of God who is making all of us and everything in Creation new. Trust that in the midst of this pain and sorrow we are actually falling madly in love again with our truest and eternal identity. As God’s beloved children, each made in that image of Loving Relationship, we remain bound together in the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit who always show up, in loving relationship, to console us eternally. Amen.