The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon
Scripture: John 14:15-21
This continues to be such a strange time – much of daily life in our household goes on as it always has - we get up at our usual times, prepare and eat meals, go about our daily housekeeping tasks, find some time for our small pleasures: playing music, reading, walking the dog, working outside in the flowers and yard. Yet it is the strangest of times; every time I think “I don’t want to cook tonight – why don’t we just go out to a restaurant for a meal” it hits me - we can’t go to a restaurant, we are still in a time of quarantine.
For our Christian forbearers it seems they also were living in a new and strange time – they had been drawn into relationship with an itinerant preacher and teacher and had been following him around the countryside for a couple of years. Jesus invites those who are accompanying him and those he attracts to imagine power which has as its goal, the well-being of all persons regardless of social status. This passage from John is part of the telling of the story of the events which took place at the Last Supper. This beautiful story, with its many layered dialogues, will continue for a couple more chapters of this gospel. In the story, Jesus continues to explain to his last breath, who he is and why he has come and when he will depart. Jesus emphasizes, even after his departure from earth, all who love him will continue to have access to our God. We have been created by love, he teaches, thus we should imitate the creator’s love. We are not alone in our daily efforts to live a life shaped by God’s love. There will be an advocate coming after his departure, Jesus promises, “with you – in you”.
“With you – in you”. One of my core beliefs has always centered around the certain knowledge of the presence of a powerful Holy Spirit which influences and supports our lives as Christian. This passage also recalled for me the teaching of one of my Hospital Chaplain mentors as her instructing seemed to illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in and with us. She told me that in working with our patients I could look for opportunities to share the four phases that matter most in human relationships - especially when a person is dealing with life or death issues. Those four phases with enormous power are: “please forgive me”, “I forgive you”, “thank you”, and “I love you”. During this time of isolation with a general slowing down of life, I have observed that many of us are reflecting on our personal relationships - I see numerous people reaching out to others with care and concern. Many times, we mistakenly think these thoughts and words are implicitly understood in our relationships – however, they are not.
Forgiveness can be exceedingly difficult to offer to someone who has hurt us or to accept from another person in return. We can hang on to grudges and consciously create distance thereby wear away joy in our relationships without realizing what we are missing as a result. Many times, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to venture into this territory. Nobody's life is perfect and there will always be regrettable moments which we wish we had handled differently at the time. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting. Forgiveness accepts the past for what it was without necessarily excusing it. If we do not address the issues with a person we are close to, those concerns can continue to haunt us to the end of our lives. People hurt each other out of insecurity and defensiveness, and if we fight fire with fire, we just perpetuate the cycle. Whereas if we choose to forgive, we can generate healing on all sides. Maybe, just maybe this time of pandemic can encourage the healing of many wounds in our world with the power of Holy Spirit creating forgiveness in our hearts.
Why is it so many of us reject the word thank you when it is offered to us? Do we think we are not worthy of some appreciation? Everyone benefits when we accept the expression of gratitude from another person without restraint. Life is short and we can infuse every moment with joy if we so choose. When we defer saying or accepting words of thanks, we push people away, creating a loss of love in our life. It is just as easy to smile and allow the other person their moment and their expression.
There is so many ways to communicate love; by actions, by words both silently and aloud. Sometimes the events of the past and certain circumstances make saying the actual words too difficult- then the door can be opened by way of a letter or recorded message or even a touch. Life is precious and we should try to live it as fully as possible in love and gratitude. This pandemic has been a reminder for many of us that life is temporary, and it has given us an opportunity to be free some false pretenses and pointless strife in our life opening space for joy. It only takes one side to change the dynamics of our relationship, and it is never too late to do so.
We can change our lives a little day by day by folding these four powerful phases “please forgive me”, “I forgive you”, “thank you”, and “I love you” into our hearts and minds – remember we have an advocate walking this journey of life with us - the Holy Spirit - which Jesus promises, will be “with you – in you”. Amen